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Published: Thursday, 7/29/2004

Edwards argues his case to a jury of millions

BY ANN McFEATTERS
BLADE WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

BOSTON - The North Carolina drawl was thicker than usual, but it was John Edwards' crowd last night as he roared, "This is America, where everything is still possible."

Mr. Edwards formally burst onto the scene as John Kerry's officially nominated running mate last night, insisting there should not be two Americas - one with opportunity and one without. "We don't want Americans to just get by. We want them to get ahead,'' he exhorted.

It wasn't just the populist rhetoric of Mr. Edwards' acceptance speech of the vice presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention that delegates wanted to hear. It wasn't bold new ideas. It was the famous Edwards-making-the-case-for-the-working-man style they cheered again and again.

Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic Party, could not contain his glee, giving the performance two thumbs up. Even Sen. Zell Miller, a Democrat from Georgia who has endorsed President Bush, said it was a "good speech by a good man," although he insisted Mr. Edwards can't deliver the South for Senator Kerry of Massachusetts.

Mr. Edwards' speech was the most rousing of the first three days of the convention and went a long way toward explaining how a rich trial lawyer is able to defy stereotypes by persuading working-class Americans he is on their side.

The jury won't vote until Nov. 2, but Mr. Edwards' entire adult life has been a rehearsal for his triumphant arrival at Boston's FleetCenter as his party's nominee for vice president.

If there's one thing the 50-year-old trial lawyer and one-term U.S. senator from North Carolina is good at, it's marshaling his facts to exact the maximum emotional impact he can wrench out of 12 men and women, or, as the Kerry campaign hopes, 120 million.

Again and again, he argued the Democrats' case for Mr. Kerry as a strong, caring leader. But he also argued the case for himself as an asset to Mr. Kerry, invoking the stories of Americans who suffer loneliness, missing spouses in a war overseas, or fighting health-care problems and financial worries.

Mr. Edwards' appeal to working-class Americans may be his strongest asset for Mr. Kerry.

"What we believe .●.●. is that you should never look down on anybody, that we should lift people up," Mr. Edwards said. "We believe in bringing people together. .●.●. The family you're born into and the color of your skin in our America should never control your destiny."

Mr. Kerry liked Mr. Edwards' positive outlook on the campaign trail during the primaries.

When Mr. Kerry's rivals were bashing him, Mr. Edwards held back. Now, Mr. Edwards has to be the pit bull of the campaign, the one who parries with Vice President Dick Cheney and President Bush.

Last night, Mr. Edwards showed his strategy - an appeal for the higher plain of politics to give every American the same opportunities he had.

"The Republicans are doing all they can to take this campaign for the highest office in the land down the lowest possible road," he said. "You can reject the tired, old, hateful, negative, politics of the past. And instead you can embrace the politics of hope, the politics of what's possible because this is America, where everything is possible."

But make no mistake, say Mr. Edwards' campaign aides; he can be as tough as he has to be.

This is a man, they note, who is on a national ticket having spent just one term in the Senate. Six years ago, he had never before run for public office. The first in his family to get a college degree, he became a multimillionaire because of his ability to sway juries.

He urged the delegates to tell America that "hope is on the way." He ended with what Americans in the post-9/11 world want to believe: "Tomorrow will always be better than today."

Going into the convention, a majority of Americans did not know much about Mr. Edwards. Many did not know that his first son, Wade, died in a automobile crash at 16. They did not know he and his wife - who have a daughter Cate, a recent Princeton graduate - had two more children, now 4 and 6, to ease the pain of their son's death.

There is concern that he knows little about foreign policy despite serving on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

But foreign policy isn't why he is on the ticket. He's there to energize the Democratic base and impel undecided voters to take another look at Mr. Kerry. Last night, Democrats in the convention hall saluted him as off to a good start.

Contact Ann McFeatters at:

amcfeatters@nationalpress.com

or 202-662-7071.



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