Week of optimism as footsoldiers unite around the cause

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The Independent US

We're the optimists, came the cry from the Democratic hierarchy. And the footsoldiers are singing from the same songsheet. Four years ago, many of these delegates left Los Angeles more in hope than expectation. Then, few really believed Al Gore would succeed Bill Clinton. Now, they march obediently behind John Kerry. But, having sprung from Boston full to the brim with confidence, they march as believers.

We're the optimists, came the cry from the Democratic hierarchy. And the footsoldiers are singing from the same songsheet. Four years ago, many of these delegates left Los Angeles more in hope than expectation. Then, few really believed Al Gore would succeed Bill Clinton. Now, they march obediently behind John Kerry. But, having sprung from Boston full to the brim with confidence, they march as believers.

For four days, they were primed. Party darlings from the Clintons and Edward Kennedy to Al Sharpton were precision-guided onto the podium of the FleetCenter. Then, in came the new generation in the shape of Senate hopeful Barack Obama and Kerry's able lieutenant, John Edwards. When they joined LL Cool J for a concert in a nightclub in Boston's theatre district on Thursday, it was the politicians who got the rock-star reception.

"This event tonight - it looks like a concert. It sounds like a concert and it smells like a concert. But it is a cause," said Mr Edwards, as twentysomething first-time delegates gave a collective, thumbs-up sign.

Earlier, they cheered as their new talisman declared that he was "reporting for duty". A fund-raiser, Regina Montoya, 50, of Dallas, and her husband, Paul Coggins, 52, were attending their third convention and were struck by the enthusiasm of young people for the party. "Kerry captured that because he's speaking to the issues that are relevant to them," said Ms Montoya.

From the town of Madison, Wisconsin, came Thomas Kitchen, for his eighth convention. He claimed he had not seen the party so motivated since 1992, when it nominated Bill Clinton. "A convention like this sweeps people up in the moment," he said.

One happy attendee was Swifty, the donkey delegate. The 10-year-old beast spent the event at a local zoo and, as party mascot, was the darling of visiting Democrats. Now he's hitting the road too, as a donkey on a mission. Swifty is bound for a stud farm in Georgia.

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