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Keynote Speaker Role Can Signal Bright Political Future

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The keynote speaker at next week's Democratic National Convention will be Senate candidate and former Virginia Governor Mark Warner. Often, that spotlight is a launching pad for higher political office. Four years ago, Barack Obama got the keynote slot. KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde says many political junkies say the best keynote address was delivered in 1984.

Kitty Felde: There's a lot of backroom deal-making that goes into the selection of a convention keynote speaker. Former L.A. City Councilwoman Roz Wyman, the chair of the 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco, was involved in those backroom talks that year.

Roz Wyman: Chuck Manatt, who was the chair of the party, and some of the political people, wanted Governor White of Texas. They said, "Great, Texas." You know, "We'll carry Texas. We'll get the gov–" Who was so dull.

And I said – it was interesting – I said, I will quit running as the CEO of this convention if he's, if he's the– nice man. Good governor. But he had– I wanted somebody who was lively.

Felde: So Wyman went all over the country to listen to people speak – an early version of "American Idol," without Simon Cowell. Her pick? The governor of New York.

Wyman: And I said, if we don't use Mario Cuomo as keynoter, I said, we're out of our minds.

Mario Cuomo:The Republicans believe that the wagon train will not make it to the frontier, unless some of the old, some of the young, some of the weak, are left behind by the side of the trail. The strong, the strong they tell us, will inherit the land. We Democrats believe in something else. We Democrats believe that we can make it all the way with the whole family intact, and we have, more than once.

Felde: Cuomo's speech was enormously popular, and it put him on the shortlist of presidential contenders for years to come. This year's keynote will be given Tuesday night by former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, who is running for Senate.

Mario Cuomo has some advice for him: stay positive. He says Democrats have to convince the voters that the party's aspirations are "worthwhile and achievable." Says Cuomo: "That's more important than saying, 'The other guy is not as good as I am.'"