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Presidential Candidates Visit the Sunshine State
By Corie Robenson, 12, and Evelyn Velez, 12
Scholastic Student Reporters

Corie Robenson talks to Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark at a rally in Orlando, Florida. Click on the picture to read more about Corie. (Photo: Suzanne Freeman)
Thursday, December 10—President Bush and health care were the hot topics at the Florida Democratic Convention in Orlando this weekend. Seven of the nine Democratic candidates held rallies, made speeches, and answered delegates' questions throughout the two-day convention.

"Health care isn't a privilege, it's a right," said Massachusetts Senator John Kerry during his speech to convention delegates.

Kerry answered questions from delegates at a luncheon. The candidates agreed to answer questions from each of the 4,000 delegates in exchange for canceling a planned straw poll. Traditionally, the Florida Democratic State Convention delegates have held a straw poll, or informal vote, on the candidates running for President. The nine candidates agreed they would not attend the convention if a straw poll was held.

With that in mind, most of the candidates followed their 20 to 30 minute convention speeches with lunch and dinner question-and-answer sessions. Questions submitted by delegates were asked at random. Those who did not get their questions answered will receive e-mail responses from the candidates.

Rally Cry for the Troops

"This marks the beginning of the end of the Bush presidency," Kerry announced to delegates as he began his speech.

Candidates Howard Dean, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, Wesley Clark, and Dennis Kucinich also addressed the Saturday crowd. Joe Lieberman came on Sunday, because he observes the Jewish Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

Student Reporter Evelyn Velez at the Florida Democratic Party State Convention in Orlando in December. Click on the picture to read more about Evelyn. (Photo: Suzanne Freeman)
Enthusiastic supporters chanting slogans and waving signs led the candidates to the convention stage. "Wes Will Win," "We Want Clark," and "Go Wes Go," chants raised the roof as hundreds of supporters marched General Clark to the podium. He was flanked by two supporters on stilts wearing sequined red, white, and blue Uncle Sam costumes. Clark's speech followed a rousing rally in front of the Coronado Springs Convention Center.

The drum line from the Jones High School Marching Tigers accompanied Kerry on and off the floor. That group had the entire convention floor vibrating from stamping feet and clapping hands.

A team of Edwards supporters followed their candidate around the convention center from meetings to the general session shouting "We Want Edwards!" Kucinich supporters maintained a loud and energetic presence outside the convention doors throughout the convention.

Time for the Press

Candidates also held press conferences. At his media event, Gephardt told Scholastic News Online he supported renewable energy as a way of replacing the nation's dependency on fossil fuels.

"I want to challenge the country to become independent of Middle Eastern oil in 10 years," Gephardt said, "through the sources of domestic, renewable energy, using such things as wind and solar and hydrogen. My plan will create 2 million jobs in this country in high tech activities: wind, solar, hydrogen, and so on. It will help our economy; it will help our environment; it will help solve global warming; and it will make us more secure."

Clark called Florida the front line of democracy in the next election. He spent the first half of his speech criticizing the Bush presidency.

"Bush wants to put a man on the moon. Mr. President—we did that 30 years ago," Clark said. "America can do better than that. That's why I'm asking for your support."