From 2004: Democrat Zell Miller delivers Republican keynote speech

Word that former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, will speak at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, brought to mind the story of the late Zell Miller, a former Democratic governor of Georgia, who was the keynote speaker for the Republicans in 2004, delivering a message for the re-election of George W. Bush.

Here is the front page story after the speech from the AJC.

Miller steals show to stir friend and foe

By Bob Kemper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sept. 3, 2004

New York — Sen. Zell Miller said he was just speaking from his heart, telling it like it is. And many who heard the Georgia Democrat deliver the keynote address to the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night responded in kind.

They loved him or hated him. They saw him as an Old Testament prophet or a divisive demagogue. They heard him speak hard truths or outlandish, angry lies.

"I was reminded that Zell Miller began his career by working for Lester Maddox, a man of hate," said commentator David Gergen, an adviser to Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

"I witnessed a return to statesmanship," said Janice Crouse, spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee. "I am convinced that Miller's speech was a turning point in the nation's history."

Miller dismissed criticisms that he was overly angry or strident, even after he exploded in an after-speech TV interview on MSNBC's "Hardball." At one point during the contentious interview, Miller said he wished he could challenge host Chris Matthews to a duel.

"I don't have to stand here and listen to that kind of stuff," Miller said at one point, objecting to Matthews' questioning. "You are saying a bunch of baloney."

Miller later said during the remote interview, "I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel."

ExploreFrom 1992: Zell Miller speaks at Democratic National Convention for Bill Clinton
ExploreOn C-SPAN: Watch video of Zell Miller's 2004 speech to the Republican National Convention

On Thursday morning, Miller told radio personality Don Imus that he had grown concerned about Matthews’ grilling of an earlier guest. “I just said to myself if he ever gets into my face like that, I’m going to pop him.”

Miller said he did nothing out of the ordinary in his speech to cheering convention delegates.

"This is the way I've been speaking and talking for 40 years," Miller said. "I don't have lukewarm on my thermostat."

Draft barely touched

He said the Bush campaign barely changed a draft of the speech he submitted three weeks ago. It only had to be shortened to ensure that Miller didn't push Vice President Dick Cheney out of the one hour of prime-time coverage the broadcast networks were providing, he said.

"They never did tell me what they wanted to have said," Miller said. "I just wrote what was in my mind and in my heart."

Standing in the very arena in which 12 years earlier he had accused Republicans of being out of touch, Miller on Wednesday lashed out at fellow Democrats, charging that they had put partisanship ahead of patriotism and were not only unfit to lead the nation but also endangering its security.

His stinging words drew a stinging response.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) called it "the most vicious speech I've ever heard." He said he "half expected [Miller] to wield an ax."

"It was a gigantic mistake," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe. "Zell Miller made Dick [Cheney] look like a compassionate conservative."

Democrats likened Miller's speech to the 1992 address Pat Buchanan delivered to the Republican convention in Houston, a bare-knuckled defense of conservative values that was widely viewed as costing former President George Bush critical support among moderate voters.

ExploreSame convention hall. Same keynote speaker. Different party

Sen. John Edwards, the Democratic nominee for vice president, said Miller's speech was long on anger but short on substance.

"Anger is not going to change this country and do what needs to be done for America," Edwards told a campaign crowd in Pennsylvania.

But Republicans continued to heap praise on Miller as the convention wound down.

"At the end of the election year if John Kerry can put his finger on one event or speech that toasted him, it was Zell Miller," said the Rev. Jerry Falwell. "I listened carefully and he told it the way the American people needed to hear it."

Bush's chief of staff, Andy Card, told CNN that Republicans had no regrets for putting Miller on. "It's my understanding that Zell Miller was pretty well-received by people concerned about the future," Card said.

Shortly after Miller finished his speech, Cheney told the crowd, "I'm glad Zell Miller is on our side."

Of all the shots Miller took at Democrats in his speech, the one that struck closest to home was his charge that fellow Georgian and former President Jimmy Carter had been an ineffective pacifist.

Carter had denounced Miller after he endorsed Bush for having "betrayed all the basic principles that I thought he and I and others shared." But the former president had no comment Thursday.

"President Carter is out of pocket and unavailable to reach for any comment," said Deanna Congileo of the Carter Center.

The convention keynote address is generally reserved for a party's up-and-coming star or someone expected to join the next administration. But Miller, who is giving up his Senate seat this year, said he's not interested in working for Bush should he win re-election.

“I would take no job in the Bush administration --- under no circumstances,” Miller said. “You couldn’t put a gun to my head and get me to be an ambassador.”