IMAGE: Vice presidential candidate John Edwards and family
Ron Edmonds  /  AP
Vice presidential candidate John Edwards gets directions from convention staffers and his wife, Elizabeth, left, before rehearsing his speech at Boston’s FleetCenter.
NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 8/1/2004 12:47:37 PM ET 2004-08-01T16:47:37

Testing his courtroom-honed charm on the nation, Sen. John Edwards aiming to infuse Sen. John Kerry’s New England convention with youth and energy Wednesday night as Democrats prepared to declare them their vice presidential and presidential nominees.

Edwards, a political novice when he won a term in the Senate from North Carolina just six years ago, planned to ask Americans to “reject the tired, old, hateful, negative politics of the past,” according to excerpts of his speech released in advance, and “embrace the politics of hope, the politics of what’s possible.”

“He’ll be talking both about the big themes of this campaign and optimism searching for a better tomorrow that this nation has always represented,” said his wife, Elizabeth , who was to introduce him Wednesday night.

Despite Kerry’s dramatic arrival back in his hometown to prepare for his address to the nation Thursday night as the party’s choice to oust President Bush, it was the other John who got the Democratic National Convention’s top billing Wednesday as Kerry’s running mate.

Edwards and his family went to the convention floor early Wednesday morning for a microphone check. “Should I just go ahead and give the speech now?” he asked the nearly empty hall.

Lawyer’s gift of gab
During the primary season, from which he emerged as Kerry’s last major challenger, Edwards, 51, drew high approval ratings by projecting a sunny optimism and refraining from harsh attacks on his opponents.

Edwards’ speaking style — direct, without notes and with short sentences and simple words — was honed over years as a plaintiff’s trial lawyer, helping him win one multimillion-dollar verdict after another.

Edwards said Wednesday that he wrote most of the speech himself in longhand on a yellow legal pad, going through about 30 drafts, and practiced it repeatedly.

Like nearly all the speakers on the first two days of the convention, Edwards will lionize Kerry with stories of his service in Vietnam while criticizing Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq.

“Decisive. Strong. Aren’t these the traits you want in a commander-in-chief?” Edwards planned to say.

After the address, which is also expected to be an encore of Edwards’ campaign contention that Bush had created “two Americas” — one for the rich and one for everyone else — the convention’s 4,350-plus delegates will shout their way through a roll call of states to formally nominate Kerry and Edwards.

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The rest of the convention session Wednesday was focusing heavily on Kerry’s background as a decorated Vietnam War veteran, which his advisers see as a key attribute and a counter to Republican efforts to paint him as a traditional liberal who is weak on defense.

Twelve retired generals and admirals endorsed Kerry on Wednesday, and a special video tribute will feature officers talking about their support.

As he arrived Wednesday at Logan Airport, Kerry told reporters that he felt “great, ready to go, pumped,” and he promised that his acceptance speech would be a surprise.

Kerry then made a splashy entrance into the city with his Vietnam-era swiftboat crew mates. They hailed a water taxi for a cruise through Boston Harbor to Charlestown Navy Yard, where Kerry promised “no retreat, no surrender” in his battle with President Bush.

For Democrats, two fresh faces
Calling him “skilled, capable and experienced,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California formally placed Kerry’s name in nomination a little after 6 p.m. as the third day of the convention got under way. The roll call of states was not scheduled until much later, however, and Kerry was not expected to be formally nominated until around midnight.

Tuesday night, Democrats got their first detailed look at Kerry’s outspoken wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, who portrayed her husband as a war hero who “earned his medals the old-fashioned way, by putting his life on the line.”

Heinz Kerry , widow of a Republican senator who inherited his family’s ketchup fortune, and the convention’s keynote speaker, Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama, sought to put a positive, friendly face of diversity on a national campaign that has been marked by bitter divisions. Their addresses were in stark contrast with those of the Democrats’ liberal lions, Edward Kennedy and Howard Dean, who issued full-throated roars against Bush.

Heinz Kerry embraced the public portrait that has emerged of her as a world citizen unafraid to speak her mind. At one point, she addressed the delegates successively in Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese, all of which she speaks fluently. And she characteristically pulled no punches.

“By now, I hope it will come as no surprise to anyone that I have something to say,” she said to laughter from delegates for whom her invitation to a conservative editorial writer to “shove it” last weekend was still fresh.

“My right to speak my mind, to have a voice, to be what some have called ‘opinionated,’ is a right I deeply and profoundly cherish,” she said, evoking her childhood under a dictator in Mozambique. “My only hope is that, one day soon, women — who have all earned the right to their opinions — instead of being labeled opinionated will be called smart or well-informed, just as men are.”

Heinz Kerry was one of two new faces being introduced Tuesday night to national Democrats. In his keynote address, Obama offered his own life as an example of uniquely American possibilities and promised that “a brighter day will come.”

Obama’s father was a goat herder in Africa who won a scholarship to study in America. He described his mother’s youth in Kansas, raised by a couple who built a good life with educations they obtained through the GI Bill and a home they got with a federal loan.

“They sense, deep in their bones, that with just a change in priorities we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all,” said Obama, 42, a lawyer who was the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review.

A Reagan drops by
Also making a dramatic appearance was Ron Reagan, the son of the late Republican president who is a commentator for MSNBC.

Reagan called for greater support for stem-cell research, which the Bush administration has sharply restricted. He argued that expanded research could help find a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, which slowly killed his father.

“There are those who would stand in the way of this remarkable future, who would deny the federal funding so crucial to basic research,” he said. “... A few of these folks, needless to say, are just grinding a political axe and they should be ashamed of themselves.”

Video: Russert’s take

Reagan and the other speakers faced a challenge living up to the buzz created by former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who were the convention’s stars Monday night. But the Democrats’ liberal lions, Kennedy and Dean , were undaunted, issuing full-throated roars against Bush.

With the national television networks skipping Tuesday night’s convention program entirely, Kennedy and Dean were free to express the frustrations of many Democrats without running much danger of turning off undecided potential voters. Kennedy denounced Bush and his administration as “false patriots” who sought to “bully dissenters into silence and submission,” while Dean, whose insurgent campaign ignited a wave of anti-Bush fervor in the party, promised that “never again will we be ashamed to call ourselves Democrats. Never. Never. Never.”

Two days into the convention, police reported that no protesters had been arrested, despite predictions that there would be thousands. Officials said bomb squads had responded to about 30 calls of unattended or suspicious bags and packages since Sunday.

Republicans, in Boston to counter the Democrats’ anti-Bush rhetoric, ridiculed Kerry for shifting positions on Iraq. They planned to unveil an 11-minute video Wednesday that captures Kerry’s changing positions on Iraq since 2001.

MSNBC.com’s Alex Johnson and Mike Brunker, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Future first lady?

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