While Dick Cheney derides Kerry with a kind of grandfatherly disdain, Edwards attacks Bush with the polished outrage of a lawyer. His eyes go squinty and his voice low and even. At the Flint rally on Friday, Edwards defended Kerry from Cheney's attack the previous day.
"The vice president picked out one word and distorted it to argue that John Kerry will not keep America safe." He reeled off the standard litany of Kerry's Vietnam exploits: how he volunteered for duty after college, how he suffered injuries, how he saved the life of a crewmate. And the home crowd loved it.
Pressing the Flesh
Cheney says he likes to campaign, to meet people. But his manner on the stump often betrays all the joy of someone cleaning an oven. After speaking to a rally at a high school in Battle Creek, the vice president grimaced forth and worked a ropeline, the back of his bald head now covered in red, white and blue confetti. Edwards lunges into crowds, grabbing for every hand and clutching them for several seconds at a time. Cheney approaches handshakes as if trying to pick mosquitoes out of the air with one hand. He makes quick and minimal contact.
Edwards loves babies and toddlers. In Flint, he leaned four-deep into a crowd so he could grab tow-headed Bennett Rauscher, 2 1/2, of East Lansing. He held him, hugged him and hoisted him for the cameras.
"Hey, he has a sister, too," Bennett's mom yelled to Edwards, and Edwards gladly performed the same routine with twin sister Audrey.
When a woman in Battle Creek handed Cheney her baby, he carried the kid for a few seconds and then handed him back, no kiss. In the next three minutes, he would quick-pinch about 100 more hands.
As he walked out a back door, the vice president vigorously rubbed his hands with sanitizing lotion provided by an aide.
Faces in the Crowd
One of the odd things about a Dick Cheney event is that many people in the crowd and dignitaries on the podium look like Dick Cheney. There appears to be a higher proportion of bald, white men wearing glasses here than in the general population. They exude calm, certainty and, not surprisingly, unabashed love for the president and his Christian values, and flagrant distaste for his opponent.
"I just saw something on 'Hannity & Colmes' about Kerry," said Teece Davenport, a bartender from Joplin. "Some of his shipmates in Vietnam were questioning his integrity. He sounds like a big liar to me."
Of Edwards, Joe Barfield of Carl Junction, Mo., said, "I have no respect for some guy who goes around chasing ambulances."
And the sentiment is mutual.
"I think Cheney is a [expletive] corporate thug," said Larry Roehrig, the secretary and treasurer of Michigan AFSCME Council 25, who attended both Edwards events in Flint. "And his buddy Bush comes off like a spoiled rich kid to us union members."
"Finally, after four years, we'll have a vice president who smiles," said former Minnesota governor Wendell Anderson, who introduced Edwards at a rally Friday night in Minneapolis. "We'll even have a vice president who enjoys campaigning, that loves people."
Who says this country is divided?
Staff Writer Vanessa Williams contributed to this report.