John F. Kerry and John Edwards, surrounded by a family tableau of children large and small, appeared together for the first time Wednesday as running mates and soul mates, striking identical themes of fairness and "restoring hope."

Outside Pittsburgh in the morning, at the 88-acre suburban estate that Kerry shares with his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, the two candidates left an unmistakable message for the campaign. It's about "putting people back to work," said Kerry, and "healthcare and restoring hope. John Edwards and his family represent a life of fighting to provide hope, of helping to fight to make America fair."

"There's so much at stake," said Edwards, noting that in the small North Carolina town from which he hailed, Kerry was "the kind of man we grew up looking up to and respecting, somebody who believed in faith, family and responsibility and having everybody do what they're capable of doing, not just a few."

"This campaign is about the future and about restoring hope," Edwards said. "People are desperate to believe again that tomorrow will be better than today."

Kerry and Edwards Wednesday began their first campaign journey, which will take them through Ohio, Florida and North Carolina during the next four days.

President Bush, who by coincidence was traveling in Edwards's home state Wednesday, quickly raised the issue of the first-term senator's experience. When asked a long question about how the North Carolina senator stacks up to Vice President Cheney, Bush quickly dispensed with the question: "Dick Cheney can be president. Next."

Bush also sought to dispute the notion that Republicans are concerned that the choice of Edwards as a vice presidential candidate will chip away at the GOP's strong support in the South.

"I'm going to carry the South because the people understand that they share -- we share values that they understand," Bush said. "They know me well. . . . I believe that I did well in the South last time, I'll do well in the South this time, because the senator from Massachusetts doesn't share their values, and that's the difference in the campaign."

Bush, who later flew to Michigan, also strongly criticized Democratic senators, including Edwards, for failing to confirm some of his judicial nominees from North Carolina and Michigan. "Their nominations are being held up, and it's not right and it's not fair . . . ," Bush said. "These judges deserve better treatment in the United States Senate. A minority of senators apparently don't want judges who strictly interpret and apply the law. Evidently, they want activist judges who will rewrite the law from the bench. I disagree."

Kerry and Edwards were just as tough in their remarks. At an afternoon stop in Cleveland, Kerry said the Democrats would be advocates for middle-class Americans who had been hurt by Bush's economic policies. "We've got better vision, better ideas, real plans, we've got a better sense of what's happening to America," Kerry said. Then he quickly quipped, "And we've got better hair."

In Pennsylvania, Kerry lavished praise on his new partner and rejected any notion that Edwards would not be ready to step into the presidency if needed. Edwards "is ready for this job. He's ready to help lead America," Kerry said. "He's a person of compassion and conviction, of strength. And, together with [his wife] Elizabeth, they represent, I think, the future that we want to fight for for all Americans."

He said that after he made public his choice of Edwards as a running mate Tuesday, the two families spent the night at the Kerrys' home near Pittsburgh talking about the announcement and having fun getting to know each other better.

Kerry joked that the ticket also was announcing a new campaign manager. "Jack Edwards is taking over everything," he quipped, referring to Edwards's 4-year-old son, whose fidgeting threatened to steal the moment until the cameras refocused from him to the candidates. "He does a wild cannonball."

Kerry reported that the first words out of Jack's mouth after the announcement Tuesday that Kerry had chosen Edwards were that he had learned to swim that day with his head above water. "He knows what's important," said Kerry.

Both wives of the candidates spoke as well. Teresa Kerry talked of the long economic struggle of the Pittsburgh region. "The hardworking people of this part of our country, who are so steadfast in their beliefs, in dedication to family and to work, have been very, very badly hurt," she said. "It's been twenty plus years now, thirty years, that they've been hit by lost jobs and pollution . . . America is full of places like the Ohio Valley, Youngstown, West Virginia. It's the same story. It's a very nice point of departure to start this voyage together from a place that has been hurt but from a place that is resilient and hopeful."

"I feel completely confident about this race," said Elizabeth Edwards. "We have only a few months to make sure the rest of the country knows John and Teresa the way we do."

Barbash reported from Washington. Washington Post staff writer Mike Allen contributed to this story.