BOSTON - North Carolina Sen. John Edwards took the stage of the Democratic National Convention last night to accept the party's vice presidential nomination and display his mastery of the role he will play through the November election: premier pitchman for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who will accept the party's nomination for the presidency this evening.
Using his own compelling story as the son of a mill worker who made millions as a trial lawyer and then turned to public service, Mr. Edwards tried to describe how he has come to admire and revere Mr. Kerry, his rival in the presidential primaries and colleague in the Senate.
In one of the most emotional prime-time tributes to Mr. Kerry thus far in the convention, Mr. Edwards sketched his running mate as a man of courage and warmth who understands the darkest struggles of average Americans, a man who has moved beyond his patrician roots and elite education to become a committed fighter for common Americans.
"If you have any question of what [Kerry] is made of, you need to spend three minutes with men who served with him [as a swift boat commander in Vietnam]," Mr. Edwards said.
"They saw him reach down and pull one of his men from the river and save his life. And in the heat of battle, they saw him decide in an instant to turn his boat around, drive it straight through an enemy position, and
chase down the enemy to save his crew."
"Decisive. Strong. Is this not what we need in a Commander-in-chief?" he asked.
"When a man volunteers to serve his country, when a man volunteers and puts his life on the line for others - that's a man that represents real American values. This is a man who is prepared to keep the American people safe and to make America stronger at home and respected in the world."
Mr. Edwards returned to the "two-Americas" theme of his primary campaign, in which he describes the United States as consisting of one country for the wealthy and another for those who struggle to make ends meet.
"We can build one America. We can strengthen and lift up your families. Your agenda is our agenda," he said, sketching the Kerry-Edwards campaign promises to create a better health care system and better paying jobs, which he argued would strengthen the nation at a time of war.
Mr. Edwards said Mr. Kerry's personal experiences in war would give him the credentials to fight the war on terrorism. "We will have one clear unmistakable message for al Qaeda. We will destroy you," he said.
Of those members of the military asked to fight to protect the country, Mr. Edwards said, "They deserve a president who understands on the most personal level what they have gone through."
In keeping with Mr. Kerry's pledge to stay positive during convention week, Mr. Edwards did not once mention President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney.
"What John Kerry and I believe is that we ought to lift people up. We believe in bringing people together," he said. "Join us in this cause. Let's make America stronger at home and respected in the world. Let's ensure that once again, in our one America - our one America - tomorrow will always be better than today."
For Mr. Edwards, last night's speech marked a new pinnacle in a political career that began only six years ago when he challenged Republican incumbent Sen. Launch Faircloth for a seat in the U.S. Senate. He won by a slim margin, but the victory immediately sparked speculation that his good looks and spirited oratory might one day drive him to run for president.
As a running mate, Mr. Edwards is clearly an object of adoration and admiration among Democratic delegates, who raved about him as they cheered for him wildly from the convention floor.
"What he brings is a total complement to John Kerry," said Paula Little, a 49-year old political consultant and Edwards delegate from North Carolina. "After [Edward's] selection, I could see John Kerry becoming much more animated with the full package of the families and the two wives. It's just a total package now."
"Because of Edwards' youthfulness, his commitment, and the way he grew up struggling on his own, he's like a common-folk person and people can relate," said Pennsylvania state Rep. Jewell Williams of Philadelphia. "I think that Kerry had the wisdom [needed for the ticket] but he had to have that magnet to draw more support and hit the cross-section of all walks of life."
The 50-year-old North Carolina senator was introduced last night by his wife of 27 years, Elizabeth Edwards, a lawyer who has in recent years stayed home to raise their two youngest children, 6-year old Emma Claire and 4-year old Jack.
"He knew there was a brighter day ahead even as he swept the floors in the cotton mill as a high school student," Ms. Edwards said. "He knew, if he worked hard enough, he could be the first in his family to go to college. He knew that he could outwork any battalion of lawyers to find justice, and he continued that fight in Washington courageously, eloquently, with one over-arching and simple goal: to make the great opportunities of America available to all Americans."
The speech was followed by the official vote to nominate Mr. Kerry as the party's presidential choice. The Ohio delegation cast the votes needed to make him the official nominee.
Mr. Kerry arrived by boat in Boston harbor yesterday afternoon accompanied by his Vietnam War crew mates and supporters before heading home to rest his voice and put the final touches on tonight's acceptance speech..
The Kerry-Edwards campaign found some good news in a new poll of "persuadable" voters released yesterday by the National Annenberg Election Survey, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
In the poll, when asked to rank the two candidates, 41 percent of 'persuadable' voters said Mr. Kerry cares "more about people like me," and only 27 percent said the same of President Bush. But among that same group, 42 percent ranked Mr. Bush higher when asked which candidate was the stronger leader; 28 percent ranked Mr. Kerry higher than the president as a strong leader and 16 percent said they were the same.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Maeve Reston is a staff write for the Post-Gazette.
Contact Maeve Reston at: email@example.com