IMAGE: Sen. John Edwards
Ron Edmonds  /  AP
“You can reject the tired, old, hateful, negative, politics of the past,” Sen. John Edwards said. “And instead, you can embrace the politics of hope.”
By Alex Johnson Reporter
msnbc.com
updated 8/1/2004 12:47:53 PM ET 2004-08-01T16:47:53

John Edwards capped a meteoric six-year rise through politics Wednesday night, standing before the Democratic National Convention as its candidate for vice president of the United States and urging Americans to replace President Bush with his Senate colleague, John Kerry.

Edwards, 51, an enormously successful trial lawyer who did not even enter politics until North Carolinians elected him to the Senate in 1998, fell short in his challenge for the Democratic presidential nomination last winter. But he won many admirers for his sunny, optimistic style, and he stuck to it Wednesday as Kerry’s running mate.

Edwards tweaked the Republicans for “doing all they can to take this campaign for the highest office in the land down the lowest possible road” and predicted that worse was yet to come. “Aren’t you sick of it?” he asked.

“This is where you come in,” he said “Between now and November, you — the American people — 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.”

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Edwards made it clear that he thought that road led to John Kerry, whom he called “decisive” and “strong,” hammering home themes party leaders were determined to get across to undecided voters. “Aren’t these the traits you want in a commander-in-chief?”

Set-up for Kerry’s nomination
Edwards technically was not speaking as the party’s vice presidential nominee; the delegates will nominate him Thursday. After he spoke, they were voting to nominate Kerry, with Massachusetts expected to seal the deal shortly before midnight.

But the focus of the third night of the convention was firmly on Edwards, who used the opportunity of a nationally televised address to introduce himself to Americans who may not have paid much attention to the campaign until now.

Video: Edwards on values

Edwards relied on the same reliable themes that helped fuel his unexpectedly strong presidential challenge, telling of his own modest childhood as the son of a mill worker who rose through hard work and intelligence to become a multimillionaire lawyer.

“I have had such incredible opportunities in my life, and I was blessed to be the first person in my family to go to college,” Edwards said. “I worked my way through, and I have had opportunities way beyond what I could have ever imagined.”

That struggle made him a champion of ordinary working Americans, said Edwards, who reprised the heart of his nomination campaign.

“The truth is, we still live in two different Americas: one for people who have lived the American Dream and don’t have to worry, and another for most Americans who work hard and still struggle to make ends meet,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”

Many promises, few specifics
Edwards ran through a long list of proposals designed to sell the Democratic ticket as the best choice to “build one America.”

Saying “hard work should be valued in this country, and we’re going to reward work, not just wealth,” Edwards promised that a Kerry administration would “stop giving tax breaks to companies that outsource your jobs. Instead, we will give tax breaks to American companies that keep jobs here in America.”

Video: Edwards on poverty

He said Kerry would push through a tax break and reform the health care system to lower insurance premiums by as much as $1,000. To cover the rising costs of child care, he promised a tax credit up to $1,000, and he offered a tax break on up to $4,000 in college tuition, an unspecified rise in the minimum wage and a program to reform welfare.

He offered no specifics on how a new administration would pay for those programs, however, promising only that it would “roll back the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, close corporate loopholes and cut government contractors and wasteful spending.” He did not address how Kerry planned to get such a program through what is almost certain to remain a Republican-controlled Congress.

Edwards to al-Qaida: ‘We will destroy you’
Edwards also talked tough on the war in Iraq, promising that Kerry would “strengthen and modernize our military.” He said a Democratic White House would double the military’s Special Forces and “invest in the new equipment and technologies.”

“We will have one clear unmistakable message for al-Qaida and the rest of these terrorists: You cannot run. You cannot hide. And we will destroy you,” he said.

Criticizing Bush’s go-it-alone diplomatic policy, Edwards said Kerry would “get NATO to help secure Iraq” and “ensure that Iraq’s neighbors, like Syria and Iran, don’t stand in the way of a democratic Iraq. We can help Iraq’s economy by getting other countries to forgive their enormous debt and participate in the reconstruction.”

Video: Edwards’ tough talk

He said Kerry would ensure “a safe and secure Israel” and “secure all the loose nukes in Russia.” And he promised that the Democrats would “close the loophole in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that allows rogue nations access to the tools they need to develop these weapons.”

As he did on domestic policy, however, Edwards again did not say how Kerry’s foreign policy team intended to reverse the opposition of NATO allies like Germany and France to U.S. involvement in Iraq, nor how it would persuade Russia to allow U.S. forces to police it for nuclear weapons, nor how Israel and the Palestinians could be brought to the table to settle their differences, a goal that has escaped U.S. presidents for more than a half-century.

Instead, he implied, voters could simply trust the Democrats to “get this done right.”

Liberals electrify convention
Edwards’ middle-America message was in sharp contrast with that of the speakers earlier in the evening, who, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, energized the convention with impassioned calls to traditional liberal values that the party has muted in its determination to put Kerry in the White House.

Sharpton, Kucinich and the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s equally energetic addresses galvanized the delegates in the FleetCenter, but they were scheduled for early in the evening, long before the national television networks went on the air. Party leaders had instructed speakers to skip over controversial issues that Democrats traditionally support, such as abortion rights, gun control, gay rights and affirmative action.

But Sharpton and Kucinich would have none of it.

Sharpton renewed the left-of-center call for economic and racial justice that allowed him to rehabilitate his image outside his native New York as a fringe activist. “This is not about a party,” Sharpton told his party in a call to honor its progressive past. “It is about living up to the promise of America.”

Sharpton touched on a number of traditionally liberal themes in a speech that ran well over the six minutes he had been allotted by convention organizers. He rejected calls to make English the national language, saying, “No one gave [Latinos] an English test before they sent them to Iraq to fight for America.” He called for residents of the District of Columbia to be given statehood. He called for economic reparations to compensate black Americans for slavery.

Kucinich sounded similar themes. Determined to reward his 67 delegates by bringing the strongest liberal message to the convention, he unabashedly proclaimed the Democrats “the party of workers’ rights, civil rights and women’s rights” and argued that “when we show up holding the banner of social and economic justice, we win.”

Jackson: Send Bush home
While they all gave ringing endorsements of Kerry for president, it was Jackson who stuck closest to the program. Recalling “the darkness of 2000, [when] the winners lost and the losers won,” he returned to the scene of some of his most stirring political triumphs, the speaker’s podium at the Democratic convention, and made a rousing call to “send John Kerry and John Edwards to the White House this November.”

Jackson, himself a two-time candidate for president, promised that “a new day is dawning,” declaring: “Out of the darkness of the Bushes, we see the soaring of an authentic American eagle on the horizon. Hope cometh in the morning.”

Jackson also made one of the few concrete policy proposals to be issued during the convention, which has been closely stage-managed by Democratic leaders to highlight Kerry’s war record and foreign policy credentials.

Jackson called on Democrats to support a constitutional amendment to guarantee every child a high-quality education, complaining that “this president speaks of leaving no child behind but leaves 2 million children behind to protect the tax cut for the top 1 percent.”

Military salute to Kerry
The rest of the convention session Wednesday focused 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, and a special video tribute featured 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 Thursday 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 night of the convention got under way.

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 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.”

“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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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