updated 7/13/2004 11:55:47 AM ET 2004-07-13T15:55:47

The Democratic National Convention will spotlight John Kerry’s public service, with particular emphasis on the Massachusetts senator’s time in the military, and include speeches by two former presidents and his family, the campaign said Tuesday.

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As the United States tries to repair relationships with its allies and braces for the possibility of another terrorist attack, the campaign said that the July 26-29 convention will be centered around the theme of “Stronger at Home, Respected in the World.”

The opening night will feature former Presidents Carter and Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore.

Kerry plans to cap the four-day gathering of more than 4,300 delegates with an acceptance speech outlining his vision to improve the nation’s standing at home and abroad. But with many voters still unfamiliar with Kerry despite more than two years of campaigning, the convention also has been designed to help people get to know his biography, including his experience as prosecutor, a lieutenant governor, a senator and a decorated Naval officer in Vietnam.

Kerry’s address is to be led by his daughters and stepsons and some of the crewmates from his Navy swiftboat in Vietnam, who have been familiar faces on the campaign trail. He is scheduled to be introduced by former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia.

Cleland, a fellow Vietnam veteran who lost three limbs during the war, was defeated in the 2002 election after Republicans questioned his patriotism. Cleland has been a political martyr of sorts for Kerry as he accuses Republicans of trying to tear down real American patriots.

Kerry told supporters at a fund-raiser Monday that he welcomes a debate about patriotism with President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

“The flag of the United States of America that I fought under, that streamed out behind my gun turret, that has covered the coffins of friends, that flag doesn’t belong to the president, it doesn’t belong to a party, it doesn’t belong to an ideology,” Kerry said. “It is a symbol of the strength of a nation of diversity and tolerance, of a democracy that has dissent, alternative ideas, and we are going to reclaim that flag for the United States of America.”

As the Kerry campaign unveiled details of the convention schedule on Tuesday, Republicans announced that they will set up operations in Boston and deploy a “rapid response team” to counter publicity surrounding Kerry and Edwards.

“Those who have been watching the Democrats over the last year may not recognize what they see in Boston, but don’t worry; we will be there to help,” GOP spokesman David James said.

Republican 'messengers' poised
Republicans plan to have plenty of messengers “of national prominence” to criticize the records of Kerry and Edwards, James said.

Speakers on Tuesday, July 27, are to include Teresa Heinz Kerry, who plans to highlight Kerry’s biography and personal strengths, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and Kerry’s fellow Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy, a driving force in bringing the convention to Boston.

Wednesday evening, Kerry running mate John Edwards is to speak, after being introduced by his wife, Elizabeth. The focus will be on Kerry’s and Edwards’ plans to lead during at time of war and terrorism by building a strong military, alliances with other nations and support for police, firefighters and other domestic responders. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will also speak Wednesday.

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