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Minnesota delegates bring convention enthusiasm back home
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Delegates to the Democratic National Convention closed out the event Thursday night with a show of enthusiasm for John Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards. (Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Minnesota Democrats are returning home after wrapping up the four-day Democratic National Convention in Boston. The convention ended Thursday evening, after Sen. John Kerry accepted the party's nomination for president. Minnesota delegates uniformly cheered Kerry's remarks -- but the event is only the first step in what's sure to be a tough three months.

Boston, Mass. — Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry has been dogged throughout his presidential run by a perception that he is aloof or disconnected from the average voter. But Minnesota delegate Benjamin Gross of Eagan says Thursday night's performance should dispel that reputation. Kerry was introduced by his daughters and by former comrades from the Vietnam War. Gross says seeing the senator in that light offered a new perspective.

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"Maybe it's because of having his old Army buddies there. I know I get more relaxed when I have close, old friends in the house. But he came out of his shell. He seemed more human and humane to me. He didn't seem like the silver spoon kid," says Gross.

Minnesota's 86 delegates responded warmly to Kerry's speech, in which he took several direct swings at President George W. Bush, particularly over the president's handling of the war in Iraq and its aftermath. Mohamed Jibrell is a delegate from Minneapolis and a Somali immigrant. Jibrell says the foreign policy vision Kerry outlined offers a clear contrast with Bush's record.

"Clearly the Kerry administration looks towards alliances -- alliance, cooperation, collaboration -- in order to make America safe and to make the world safe. He said, 'I will never send Americans to fight unless they have to,'" Jibrell says.

Kerry also touched on domestic themes, offering tax breaks for middle-income families and promising to reduce the federal deficit by repealing Bush's tax cuts for those making more than $200,000 a year. Golden Valley delegate and former State Rep. Betty Folliard says Kerry hit precisely the right notes.

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"I certainly wanted to hear his views on what he was going to do on health care. I wanted, kind of, the bread-and-butter issues. How are we doing on education? How are we doing with our seniors? How are we doing with children? And all of those were so well-covered," Folliard says.

It's no surprise, of course, that an arena overflowing with Democrats would offer glowing reviews of Kerry's performance. In many ways, the senator's larger task was to convince undecided voters that he could represent them. State Rep. Nora Slawik is a convention delegate from Maplewood. She says she's confident Kerry's message will resonate beyond the ranks of the already-converted.

"We saw how he was a leader when he was in the service. We saw how he was a leader when he was in the Senate. We see how he relates to his family," Slawik says. "I think that a lot of people see someone that they can support. That's what we see. But I think that's what other people see."

Kerry still faces a tough election fight, with Minnesota poised to be one of the deciding factors in the November election. Recent polls show Kerry and Bush locked in a dead heat that hasn't shifted much in months.

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St. Paul delegate Rod Halvorson says he expects that to change -- and he says the nearly 5,000 delegates and alternates in Boston will give the Democrats new momentum as they return to their home states.

"There's not a lot of decision-making that goes on during the four days. But what it is is a huge rally and enthusiasm-builder," says Halvorson. "And turning the people into real ambassadors, that go back home and give that enthusiasm of what occurred. And I think that you can generate in others the same enthusiasm you saw."

Republicans, of course, will push just as hard to motivate their supporters. President Bush is scheduled to begin a multi-state campaign tour with a stop in Minnesota next week. And Republicans will be fanning their own enthusiasm next month during their convention in New York.

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