BOSTON – With 100 campaign days remaining, Sen. John Kerry sought votes in the quintessential battleground state of Ohio on Sunday while thousands of Democratic National Convention delegates converged on a citadel of liberalism to nominate him for the White House.

“Four more years of what?” Kerry responded pointedly to a group of President Bush’s supporters who greeted him noisily at his appearance in Columbus.

“Four more years of jobs being lost, four more years of the deficit growing bigger and bigger? Four more years of losing our allies around the world? We know we can restore our alliances around the world and make America strong again,” added the four-term Massachusetts senator, running even to slightly ahead of Bush in the pre-convention polls.

Half a continent away, security was an overarching concern at the first political convention in the post-9/11 era of terrorism. Camouflaged military police took up positions along elevated rail lines overlooking the FleetCenter, where 4,350 delegates will meet beginning Monday for four days of political pageantry, while bomb-sniffing dogs and officers roamed nearby streets and a helicopter circled overhead. Metal barricades, about 7 feet high, were placed along some of the nearby streets to block and direct foot traffic.

An estimated 3,000 demonstrators – most protesting the war in Iraq – gathered about a half mile away, on Boston Common, a grassy park not far from candidate John Kerry’s Beacon Hill town house. They marched from there past the FleetCenter, through City Hall Plaza and back to the Common.

Another 1,000 anti-abortion activists gathered at historic Faneuil Hall for a rally. Some of them later marched toward the FleetCenter, crossing paths with the anti-war march. The confrontation was brief and mostly peaceful.

The protests resulted in one arrest. Another protester was detained for questioning by the Secret Service and later released.

The U.S. Coast Guard patrolled the harbor, where it said it would randomly board commercial ships for security checks for the first national political convention since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Highway officials began erecting temporary curbing on I-93 north of the city Sunday morning, setting up special lane for emergency crews and buses. During the convention, the 6-mile stretch of highway near the FleetCenter will be shut down from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.

The Federal Aviation Administration banned all corporate and private flights in and out of Logan during the convention. Only regularly scheduled commercial flights, law enforcement, military and emergency medical flights will be allowed within a 10-mile radius of the airport.

Whatever the scene outside, there was no evidence of dissension among the Democrats gathering to nominate Kerry – no platform fight, no battle over floor credentials, not even a sour note from Kerry’s rivals in last winter’s primaries.

“It’s not normally how this party operates,” laughed Terence McAuliffe, the party chairman.

“I think it’s one of the most unified parties we’ve had in recent history,” added New Jersey Rep. Bob Menendez, who will speak to the delegates on Monday night. “It’s a coalescence both against the president’s policies … and it’s also a very strong sense of purpose of taking the country in a new direction.”

It was the latter that Kerry’s convention scriptwriters wanted to accentuate. If Bush-bashing wasn’t exactly banned in Boston for the week, convention officials said it had been relegated to the rhetorical margins.

It was a strategy dictated in part by polls showing that Kerry’s Democratic base is already solidly behind him and that the relatively small portion of the electorate that remains undecided wants to hear more about him and his plans for the future.

“Swing and independent voters are very much up for grabs. Kerry has to make the sale, and he has a long way to go to make the sale,” said Harold Ickes, a former top aide to President Clinton who now heads a multimillion-dollar independent effort to put another Democrat in the White House.

It was coincidence that brought the Democratic convention to a bedrock liberal state that Kerry has represented in the Senate for more than two decades. Republicans view it as an opportunity, though, and have sought to use the juxtaposition to their advantage. They issued their own poll as part of an attempt to show Kerry as more liberal than even his own constituents.

The four-day list of convention orators ran to more than 100 speakers, with the coveted prime-time slots reserved for a few.

Clinton was Monday night’s headline speaker, to be introduced by his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who lobbied strongly to bring the convention to his home state, had a key slot the second night, although no live network coverage was planned.

Wednesday night’s prime-time hour was designed to showcase Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Kerry’s vice presidential running mate. The tentative schedule also had delegates formally bestowing their nomination on Kerry the same night after midnight.

Kerry delivers his acceptance speech on Thursday, then sets out on a cross-country trip he hopes will lead to the White House.

Backers of Kerry and Bush yelled loudly at one another when the Democratic candidate arrived to speak to voters in a politically divided neighborhood of Columbus. Bush supporters strung flip-flops over the phone lines to underscore the GOP campaign’s claim that he frequently shifts his position on the issues.

Earlier, anti-abortion protesters turned out at the church where he worshipped.

“I’m proud to hear the voices of democracy,” Kerry said. “Sometimes they’re a little loud, but that’s the nature of democracy and we welcome that. What we really need to do in America, frankly, is stop shouting at each other and start listening to each other.”

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AP-ES-07-25-04 1818EDT

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