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POLITICAL PUNDITS GIVE HIGH MARKS TO KERRY'S 'HELP IS ON THE WAY' SPEECH

If anyone was unsure about how John F. Kerry's speech to the Democratic Convention played to television viewers Thursday night, they at least knew "help is on the way" immediately from political pundits.

When Kerry's speech gets Pat Buchanan's endorsement, you know he won the expectations game.

At about 12:15 a.m., the conservative Republican commentator told an MSNBC audience that if he didn't know Kerry's voting record, he would vote for him after that speech. Buchanan added that he thought the Democratic presidential candidate exceeded expectations.

While Kerry certainly is no Bill Clinton in delivery, he seemed to be enjoying his time on the podium as he proudly spoke of his military service and talked about values, faith and other themes the Republicans have owned in past campaigns. His mantra, "help is on the way," may have seemed a bit lame to some, but these things are about audience participation and that certainly helped get the crowd going.

Buchanan's support certainly was more stunning than that of ABC's George Stephanapoulos. On "Nightline," the former Clinton aide gave the speech a number grade of 8 out of 10 as written and a 7.5 as delivered.

He also noted that Kerry's plea to President Bush to engage in a civil campaign shouldn't be taken too seriously. After all, it was preceded by several harsh criticisms of the President's policies.

NBC's Tom Brokaw also immediately praised Kerry's speech, saying it was a strong one that touched all the things important to Democrats and reached beyond the Democrats.

His colleague, Tim Russert, added that the speech continued the populist economic message the Democrats had all week long and also continued to move the Kerry-John Edwards ticket to the right of the president on defense.

Noting that the Democrats nominated Kerry even though they may have preferred other candidates, Russert said they wanted to see if he was tough enough and had the passion to be president. Russert said Kerry's response was to assure them on both counts.

Clearly, the commentators came away impressed and Kerry seemed to have pulled off the mission of showing his strength and exhibiting some humanity, no sweat.

Well, actually there was a lot of sweat. Kerry repeatedly mopped his forehead with a handkerchief. But even that gesture turned into a positive on ABC, where a commentator noted that it may have been a sign of the candidate's humanity. Richard Nixon could have used such a positive spin when he sweated up a storm in his famous debate with John Kennedy.

Numerous commentators pointed out that Kerry repeatedly used phrases in his speech previously used by President Bush and the late President Reagan in a smart attempt to prevent the Republicans from controlling themes that are key in many campaigns.

By the time the Sunday morning talk shows come around, the full impact of Kerry's speech may be known and polls certainly will indicate how much of a so-called bounce the convention will give the ticket.

But as ABC's Ted Koppel indicated at the start of "Nightline," the Republicans know help is on the way, too. They get to go last and their convention in New York City at the end of August will give them a chance to answer all of the Democrats' complaints about the past and expensive plans for the future.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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