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Keynote talks rally the troops

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TEXAS Treasurer Ann Richards, who will give the Democratic National Convention's keynote address tonight, is a populist who thinks in terms of pragmatic solutions. When a poor connection left a recent telephone call from an Oklahoma reporter sounding distant and hollow, Ms. Richards didn't miss a beat.

``You sound like you're in a well,'' she told the reporter from her office near the Texas State Capitol. ``When we were kids and a frog got in the well, we'd pour in some Clorox. It didn't taste too good, but it got the frog out and the water was still potable. So if you have any frogs in that well with you, now you know what to do.''

The 12,000 Democratic Party delegates and spectators who hear Ms. Richards speak at the Omni Center in Atlanta and the millions more who watch her on television will likely hear a few other folksy tales from this self-described ``strong and gutsy'' Texas woman as she sets the tone for her party's nominating convention.

There may be a down-home accent to some of what she says, and she promises to throw in some humor. But that will only be the spice that flavors a speech that she wants to express what she considers the ``compassion and promise'' of her party: its interest in strong families.

Before the days of coast-to-coast primaries, television, and Madison Avenue political campaigns, convention keynote addresses served to stir up the fervor of delegates who had many large decisions still before them - most prominently, the selection of the party's standard-bearers.

But more recently, with the party's ticket already decided before the convention - no presidential nomination has gone beyond a first ballot since the Republican vote in 1952 - the keynote address has served less to rally the delegates in the hall than to attract the masses, through their TV screens, to the party's vision of the country.

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