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Kerry's Nomination Is Official

In His Turn in Spotlight, Edwards Tells Democrats 'Hope Is on the Way'

By Dan Balz and Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 29, 2004; Page A01

BOSTON, July 28 -- John F. Kerry was nominated as the Democratic Party's presidential candidate Wednesday night after running mate John Edwards praised the Massachusetts senator as a decisive and battle-tested leader, and he urged voters to embrace the politics of hope over what he called a low-road campaign by the Republicans.

Vowing "no retreat, no surrender," Kerry swept into this convention city late Wednesday morning, surrounded by a dozen Vietnam War crewmates aboard a ship in Boston Harbor. He then yielded the spotlight to Edwards, who was his last major rival in the Democratic primary battle and the popular choice within the party to team with Kerry in the campaign ahead against President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

The District's delegation cheers as Al Sharpton addresses the convention. Sharpton said Republicans turned their backs on black voters years ago. (Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

A July 29 article on the Democratic National Convention misquoted a speech by activist Al Sharpton. He did not suggest, as the article said, that the nation's African American vote was "soaked in the blood of good men." He said that vote was "soaked in the blood of Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner," referring to civil rights activists Andrew Goodman, James Cheney and Michael Schwerner, who were beaten and shot to death in Mississippi in 1964.

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Edwards quickly showed off the rhetorical skills that carried him from the plaintiff's bench to the Senate and eventually to the thick of the Democratic race. He promised that "hope is on the way" as he pledged that Kerry would keep the country safe, fix the nation's intelligence capabilities, expand access to health care, create jobs and heal the country's racial and economic divisions.

Republicans "are doing all they can to take this campaign for the highest office in the land down the lowest possible road," he said. "This is where you come in. 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."

Edwards never mentioned Bush or Cheney by name -- a departure from the traditional vice presidential role of leading the attack against the opposition. But he outlined a Democratic agenda that drew a sharp contrast with that of the Bush administration and vouched for Kerry's character and values, saying, "John understands personally about fighting in a war."

In a speech that repeatedly brought the delegates to their feet with applause, Edwards melded his own values and the message that carried him through the primaries with Kerry's biography and policy vision for the country. The senator, who as a lawyer was lauded for simplifying the complicated, tried Wednesday night to reach the nation's middle class by outlining his own modest upbringing, harking back to his message of "two Americas" -- the haves and have-nots -- and offering hope to the struggling.

The speech was long on promises, but did not address how Kerry would deal with the big budget deficits run up under Bush or the looming challenge of financing such major entitlement programs as Social Security and Medicare.

Edwards declared that the United States has two health care systems, two education systems and two economies -- one for the very wealthy, the other for most other Americans -- and vowed that if he and Kerry are elected, "we can build one America." In so doing, he laid the foundation to detail Kerry economic and national security proposals, and portray the Massachusetts senator as a man who was tested in war and is ready to lead.

When he concluded, he was joined on the stage by his wife, Elizabeth; his older daughter, Cate; and his two young children, Emma Claire and Jack, as the delegates cheered and swayed to the music of singer Stevie Wonder and later to a performance by Black Eyed Peas.

The Democrats scripted the third day of their convention to highlight Kerry's military service as part of the weeklong effort to introduce their candidate to the country and demonstrate that he is fit to become commander in chief.

In addition to the show of support from his Swift boat crewmates, Kerry was saluted from the podium by retired Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said Kerry understands the dangers of the current world "and is fully prepared for the challenges ahead."

Shalikashvili was then joined by a group of retired military officers, including retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, all of whom have endorsed Kerry's candidacy, as the audience waved American flags and chanted "USA, USA."

Kerry was awarded his party's nomination well past the end of television prime time on Wednesday and spent part of the day working on the acceptance speech he will give Thursday, a speech that advisers recognize as one of the most important of his political career. Kerry went over the top at 11:37 p.m. after the roll call of states was scripted to allow Ohio to cast the decisive votes. The Buckeye State was chosen because Democrats see it as a linchpin in their electoral strategy in November.

In a change from past conventions, Edwards will be formally nominated on Thursday, but Wednesday night belonged to him and his vigorous address in support of Kerry.

Edwards is a first-term North Carolina senator and former trial lawyer who began the presidential campaign as a dark horse candidate but who caught fire in the Iowa caucuses and earned his spot on the ticket by his performance on the campaign trail. Adhering to the night's theme of security and strength, Edwards called Kerry "decisive" and "strong" and asked, "Is this not what we need in a commander in chief?"

Edwards challenged Republican criticism of Kerry as someone who does not share the values of most Americans. "When a man volunteers to serve his country . . . and puts his life on the line for others, that's a man who represents real American values," he said. "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."

Recounting his own rise from humble roots in small-town North Carolina, Edwards, 51, said the core of the Democratic campaign "is to make sure all Americans have exactly the same kind of opportunities that I had -- no matter where you live, no matter who your family is, no matter what the color of your skin is, this is the America we believe in."

He produced a thunderous ovation when he said the nation must confront the effects of racism and that Democrats should never shrink from discussing the issue. "This is not an African American issue. This is not a Latino issue. This is not an Asian American issue," he said. "This is an American issue. It's about who we are, what our values are, what kind of country we live in."

Edwards promised that he and Kerry would create more jobs, stop tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, raise the minimum wage, expand access to health care, lower health insurance premiums and reorient the tax code to help working Americans. "We're going to reward work, not just wealth," he said.

With Republicans charging that Kerry's election would mean tax increases for most Americans, Edwards vowed that 98 percent of all Americans would continue to receive the tax cuts they have received under Bush and that only the wealthiest Americans would see their taxes increase. He also said Kerry would close corporate tax loopholes and cut wasteful spending.

Turning to national security, Edwards continued to challenge the administration. "We are approaching the third anniversary of September 11th," he said of the attacks, "and I can tell you when we're in office, it won't take us three years to get the reforms in our intelligence that are necessary to keep the American people safe. We will do whatever it takes, as long as it takes, to make sure that never happens again in our America."

Edwards vowed that Kerry would pursue al Qaeda and other terrorists relentlessly. "We will have one clear unmistakable message for al Qaeda and these terrorists," he said. "You cannot run. You cannot hide. We will destroy you."

But he drew a contrast with the Bush administration by saying that Kerry would rebuild U.S. alliances and use renewed respect for the United States to gain support from NATO to help secure Iraq. "We will get this done right," he said.

In her introduction, Elizabeth Edwards provided another connection between Kerry and the military, recalling her father's service in the Navy. "Like John Kerry," she said, "my father fought for this country. Like John Kerry, he was decorated risking his life in her service." Kerry, she said, shared one more trait with her father: "He has the right stuff."

Turning to her husband, she described Edwards as "the smartest, toughest, sweetest man I know," but said she was drawn to him principally for his optimism. "He knew there was a brighter day ahead even as he swept the floors in the cotton mill as a high school student," she said.

Elizabeth Edwards also sought to turn her husband's 20-year career as a trial lawyer, which Republicans have attacked since he first ran for office in North Carolina six years ago, into an asset, describing him as a champion of ordinary people in both his careers. "He knew he could outwork and out-tough any battalion of lawyers to find justice, and he continued that fight in Washington," she said. "Courageously, eloquently, with one simple goal: to make the great opportunities of America available to all Americans."

The moment had a particular poignancy for Edwards and his wife, whose 16-year-old son, Wade, had urged his father to run for office before he was killed in a 1996 car accident. Edwards has rarely spoken about his son's death on the campaign trail and this was no exception. He mentioned the boy only once in passing Wednesday night -- along with his other three children.

Before the Edwards family took the stage, several of Kerry's other primary opponents used their speeches to praise the man who defeated them and to condemn Bush and his policies.

Al Sharpton drew a rousing response when he forcefully challenged Bush's argument last week before the Urban League that the Democratic Party takes black voters for granted. But Sharpton said that Republicans turned their backs on black voters years ago, and that it was Democrats who fought for and delivered civil rights and voting rights.

"Mr. President, the reason we are fighting so hard, the reason we took Florida so serious, is our right to vote wasn't gained because of our age," he said. "Our vote was soaked in the blood of martyrs, soaked in the blood of good men, soaked in the blood of four little girls in Birmingham. This vote is sacred to us." With applause rising from the convention floor, Sharpton shouted, "This vote can't be bargained away. This vote can't be given away. Mr. President, in all due respect, Mr. President, read my lips: Our vote is not for sale."

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio), one of the most vociferous opponents of the war in Iraq, said Bush misled the country. "Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 or with al Qaeda's role in 9/11," he said. "We have found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."

Then reprising lines from his campaign, he added, "I've seen weapons of mass destruction in our cities. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. Joblessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Racism is a weapon of mass destruction. Fear is a weapon of mass destruction. We must disarm these weapons."

Florida Sen. Bob Graham (Fla.) also took a shot at the administration on the national security front, saying the country has failed to stand up to new terrorist threats. "At a time when freedom-loving people around the world are looking for leadership in the war against terror, America has not provided it," he said.

Researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company