Promising that "hope is on the way," Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards said that electing the ticket headed by his running mate, John F. Kerry, would help restore respect for the United States around the world and make the country safer.
In a speech to the Democratic National Convention before a formal roll call to give Kerry the party's presidential nomination, Edwards, 51, a first-term senator from North Carolina, rallied the more than 4,000 delegates with a ringing endorsement of Kerry's agenda and a call to reject the "tired, old, hateful, negative politics of the past."
Without once mentioning President Bush or his Republican administration by name, Edwards spoke of ending the inequalities that he said have created "two Americas." He urged Americans to embrace the "politics of hope" that he said is embodied by the Democratic ticket, and he extolled the military service and leadership of Kerry, 60, the four-term senator from Massachusetts who is scheduled to formally accept the nomination at the convention's closing session on Thursday.
But Edwards reserved his strongest rhetoric for his call to repair what he described as America's damaged international credibility.
"A new president will bring the world to our side," he said. "And John and I will bring the world together to face the most dangerous threat we have: the possibility of terrorists getting their hands on a chemical, biological or nuclear weapon."
"With our credibility restored, we can work with other nations to secure stockpiles of the world's most dangerous weapons," Edwards said, adding, "That's how we can keep you safe. That's how we can restore America's respect around the world. . . . The truth is every child, every family in America, will be safer and more secure if they grow up in a world where America is once again looked up to and respected. That is the world we can create together."
Edwards also pledged that a Kerry administration would "listen to the wisdom of the September 11th commission," a bipartisan panel that last week recommended creating a new counterterrorism center and appointing a Cabinet-level intelligence czar.
"We will lead strong alliances. We will safeguard and secure weapons of mass destruction," Edwards said. "We will strengthen our homeland security and protect our ports, safeguard our chemical plants, and support our firefighters, police officers and [emergency medical technicians]. We will always use our military might to keep the American people safe.
"And we, John and I, we will have one clear unmistakable message for al Qaeda and these terrorists. You cannot run. You cannot hide. We will destroy you."
Stressing Kerry's "positive, optimistic vision for the country," Edwards drew a contrast with "relentless negative attacks against John" and asked, "Aren't you sick of it?"
The crowd, holding up American flags, red signs saying, "Edwards," and placards reading, "Hope is on the way," roared in response, "Yes!"
He said Kerry's opponents "are doing all they can to take this campaign for the highest office in the land down the lowest possible road." Edwards added: "But this is where you come in. Between now and November -- you, the American people -- you can reject this 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."
Reprising the main theme of his primary campaign stump speech, Edwards said, "We have so much work to do. Because the truth is, we still live in two different Americas: one for all these people who have lived the American dream and don't have to worry, and another for most Americans who . . . still struggle to make ends meet. It doesn't have to be that way. We can build one America."
Like other speakers who have trooped to the podium in Boston's FleetCenter since the convention opened Monday, Edwards extolled Kerry's qualifications to be commander in chief, highlighting his service in the Vietnam War and the accolades of the Navy crew mates who served under him on patrol boats in the Mekong Delta.
Those crew mates "saw up close what he's made of," Edwards said. "They saw him reach into the water and pull one of his men from the river and save his life. They saw him in the heat of battle decide in a split second to turn his boat around, drive it straight through an enemy position, and chase down the enemy to save his crew. Decisive. Strong. Is this not what we need in a commander in chief?"
Edwards was introduced by his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, who praised both her husband and Kerry.
She said she married Edwards "because he was the single most optimistic person I have ever known."
"He knew there was a brighter day ahead even as he swept the floors in the cotton mill as a high school student," Elizabeth Edwards said. "He knew that he could outwork . . . any battalion of lawyers to find justice, and he continued that fight in Washington."
She continued: "We deserve leaders who allow their faith and moral core -- our faiths and moral core -- to draw us closer together, not drive us farther apart. We deserve leaders who believe in each of us."
Kerry's name was officially placed in nomination Wednesday in speeches by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California; Michael B. Coleman, the mayor of Columbus, Ohio; and Eimy Santiago, a participant in the federally supported Youthbuild program from Springfield, Mass.
"John Kerry is a leader I trust," Coleman said. "I trust him to help keep us secure from terrorism." He said he was dedicating the nomination to those serving in the U.S. armed forces, including his youngest son, John David Coleman, a Marine lance corporal.
Among the other speakers were two of Kerry's former rivals in this year's Democratic primaries: Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and New York activist Al Sharpton. Kucinich, who publicly endorsed Kerry only last week, said Wednesday night, "We are one for John Kerry. We will carry America for Kerry, and Kerry will carry America for us."
Charging that the Bush administration "rushed us into a war based on distortions and misrepresentations" and noting that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, Kucinich declared: "I have 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. . . . We must disarm these weapons."
Sharpton revved up the crowd with an oration in which he challenged Bush over his questions for black voters at a convention of the National Urban League last week. Bush had asked African Americans whether they felt the Democratic Party was taking their votes for granted.
"Mr. President," he said, "our vote is soaked in the blood of martyrs. This vote is sacred to us. This vote can't be bargained away. This vote can't be given away. With all due respect, Mr. President, read my lips: our vote is not for sale."
Earlier Wednesday, Kerry cruised into Boston in the company of former Navy shipmates from the Vietnam War to accept his party's nomination as the challenger to President Bush in the November election. Kerry was met at Logan Airport by 13 fellow veterans and crew members from two patrol boats he commanded, then boarded a water taxi with them for a trip across the Boston Harbor.
The presence of the veterans helped promote the day's theme: "the Kerry-Edwards vision for a stronger, more secure America."
In what the Kerry campaign called an unprecedented display of support from the military establishment, 12 former generals and admirals announced their endorsement of the Democratic candidate.
One of them, retired Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed the convention Wednesday night after an introduction by retired Lt. Gen. Claudia J. Kennedy, a former deputy chief of staff for Army intelligence and the first woman to achieve three-star rank in the Army.
"I stand here as an old soldier and a new Democrat," Shalikashvili said. "I am a new Democrat because I believe that John Kerry and John Edwards are the right choice for national security, and the right choice for America."
Among the other retired flag officers endorsing Kerry were Army Lt. Gen. Daniel W. Christman, a former superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy; Adm. William J. Crowe, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman; Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar, a former commander of the U.S. Central Command; and Gen. Merrill "Tony" A. McPeak, a former chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force.
"The Democratic Party led by John Kerry is no longer going to cede ground to Republicans on being strong on national defense," said Mark Kitchens, a former Navy lieutenant who served during the Iraq war and now is the campaign's deputy press secretary for national security.
The campaign of Bush and Vice President Cheney countered by charging that Kerry is too unsteady to be president in this time of turmoil.
"There is neither strength nor wisdom in John Kerry's vacillation on the very serious issue of Iraq and the war on terror," campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said in a statement. "John Kerry's positions have shifted with the political winds -- a troubling sign for a candidate for president at a time when our nation faces unprecedented challenges at home and abroad."
At his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Bush has been "keeping an eye on" the convention, watching some of it on television "from time to time," White House spokesman Trent Duffy told reporters.
For his part, Cheney said Wednesday that he was "especially looking forward to the campaign ahead now that I have an opponent." At a luncheon in Salt Lake City, Utah, for a Republican congressional candidate, the vice president said, "People keep telling me -- they say Senator Edwards got picked because he's charming, good looking, sexy. I said, 'How do you think I got the job?'" As the audience burst out laughing, Cheney deadpanned, "Always bothers me when people laugh at that line."
Before Kerry's arrival in Boston, former senator Max Cleland of Georgia roused a sleepy Virginia delegation with a fiery breakfast speech in which he charged that there is a "total disconnect" between Bush and the troops he sent into Iraq, Washington Post staff writer Michael D. Shear reported.
"We all know that this administration sold the Iraq war as a used car that has turned into a lemon and all the wheels are falling off," Cleland said in a preview of his Thursday speech to the convention. "When it all goes to hell in a hand basket, that's when you want John Kerry as president of the United States."
The veteran and longtime Kerry friend, who lost his legs and an arm in Vietnam, nearly brought several of the delegates to tears.
"I love Max Cleland," said Wava Reigel, a delegate from Virginia Beach. "He can identify with people who go to war and have injuries. And you know who can't. Oh, I'm supposed to be nice."
Even as Cleland was addressing the Virginia delegation, the state's governor, Mark R. Warner, was making a similar case live on Fox News. With Boston's Harbor in the background, Warner said Bush's war record is driving voters away.
"That's why you are seeing veterans across the country break for Kerry," Warner said. He noted that few people would have given the Democrats a chance to win Virginia six to eight months ago. But that has changed, he said.
"Bush very successfully campaigned in 2000 as a compassionate conservative," Warner said. "Unfortunately, that's not how he's governed."