HARRISBURG, Pa. - Mere hours after accepting his party's nomination for president in a star-spangled ceremony at the FleetCenter, Democrat John Kerry and running mate John Edwards rolled out of Boston and headed toward the heartland where the election likely will be decided this fall.
Dubbing the coast-to-coast bus trip the "Believe in America" tour, the Massachusetts senator reiterated themes from his acceptance speech, kicking off his general election campaign by promising an administration that will bring hope to the nation.
"My friends in Scranton, this is the most important election of our lifetimes," Mr. Kerry told 3,000 people packed into a four-block area in front of the Lackawanna County courthouse yesterday. "Everything is on the line. Our jobs, our health care, our schools, our role in the world, our character as a country. John Edwards and I are asking you to join us. Enlist in this cause. Go out and talk to your neighbors. Talk to your friends. Talk common sense and mainstream American values."
The populist appeal won just as much approval from many in this crowd, including Minnie Sangster, a North Carolina resident who happened to be in town for a conference and stumbled onto the downtown rally. She favors the ticket, especially the No. 2 man.
"I like John Edwards because of his honesty and integrity," she said, adding that she would support the Kerry/Edwards ticket in November. "He is bright and articulate."
Catherine Corcoran, a Scranton teacher, said she has yet to make up her mind.
"The war is a big issue," she said. "I am concerned because it has taken a bad turn, and we are losing a lot of young Americans. I don't know what else is going to change my mind. I'll have to wait and see."
The key battleground in the fall election extends from West Virginia through Pennsylvania to Ohio and includes Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa, most of which will get a visit from the Kerry motorcade as it heads west.
The battle for Ohio is renewed in full force today, as Mr. Kerry and President Bush both campaign for support. Mr. Kerry will appear in Zanesville, while Mr. Bush will work to again win the state he captured four years ago, campaigning in Canton and Cambridge.
Bush spokesman Kevin Madden said Mr. Kerry is all talk and no action.
"Mr. Kerry was an obstacle to tax reform. He never offered any substantive ideas to improve health care. These comments now reflect what we said all along. He offers up cliches and platitudes instead of substantive ideas," he said.
The cross-country Kerry tour got started with an early-morning rally with hundreds of people in Mr. Kerry's hometown of Boston, which embraced him at this week's convention.
The challenger saw symbolism in the moment.
"I want to share a minute about how special this is. The sun is rising over here. Standing in front of this beautiful harbor. We are in a place of history. Just up over that tree I can see the top of the steeple of the Old North Church. Back over here is Bunker Hill. This is where America was shaped. These are the places where people dared and put their lives on the line and took a risk," he said.
The Boston crowd also heard from Mr. Kerry's running mate, Senator Edwards of North Carolina.
"We had an extraordinary week and an extraordinary convention, talking about this message of hope and optimism for the country," he said.
"I'm convinced people will embrace this message. People are hungry for hope."
The caravan of 17 vehicles, including 10 buses, then rolled south to New York and west into Pennsylvania.
This being the 27th wedding anniversary of Mr. Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, the caravan stopped for lunch to celebrate at a Wendy's restaurant in Newburgh, N.Y., toasting each other with Frosties and fulfilling a ritual the Edwards have observed every year.
In an interview with the Associated Press yesterday, Mr. Kerry said he would put Osama bin Laden on trial in U.S. courts rather than an international tribunal to ensure the "fastest, surest route" to a murder conviction if the terrorist mastermind is captured while he is president.
"I want him tried for murder in New York City, and in Virginia and in Pennsylvania," where planes hijacked by al-Qaeda operatives crashed Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Kerry said.
The Saudi-bred terrorist is suspected of plotting attacks that have shed blood across the globe, not just in the United States. Mr. Kerry suggested he would place the highest priority on avenging American deaths.
Last night the Kerry/Edwards caravan stopped in Harrisburg, Pa., where they held a rally with thousands of supporters outside the state capital building.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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Mere hours after accepting his party's nomination for president in a star-spangled ceremony at the FleetCenter, Democrat John Kerry and running mate John Edwards rolled out of Boston and headed toward the heartland where the election likely will be decided this fall.