Sen. John Edwards returned to the state where he scored the first symbolic victory of his long-shot bid for president and urged an enthusiastic crowd to help put John F. Kerry in the White House.

"I love Iowa. I'm so happy to be back here," Edwards said in his first solo campaign appearance since Kerry tapped him to be his running mate. "The time I spent in Iowa was so important to where I am today."

Edwards, who surprised pundits by posting a strong second-place finish behind Kerry in the Iowa caucuses by talking up his personal history and promising to unite a divided country, touted Kerry's background as a war hero and described him as a strong leader who will look out for struggling families.

"And I'll tell you one thing you can take to the bank," Edwards said during his 15-minute speech. "When John Kerry is our president . . . he will tell the American people the truth."

In one of his few references to foreign policy and national security, Edwards cited a British report issued Wednesday on that country's intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq war -- its conclusions were similar to that of a Senate intelligence committee report released last week. "Tony Blair didn't run from the report," Edwards told a crowd of nearly 1,000 in front of the state Capitol. "It's because he understands what leadership is. . . . What we need in the White House is somebody who has the strength, courage and leadership to take responsibility and be accountable, not only for what's good, but for what's bad."

Still, Edwards's message was largely positive. He never mentioned President Bush by name, instead focusing his comments on Kerry's service in Vietnam and their common agendas to provide jobs, health care and create "one America, respected at home and in the world."

The stop in Iowa, a state Al Gore won narrowly four years ago, was the first on Edwards's cross-country tour that will take him to Louisiana, Texas, California and Florida by week's end. The events include rallies with voters as well as fundraisers. On Wednesday night, Edwards attended a reception with financial contributors in Chicago. Senate candidate Barack Obama of Illinois, whom Kerry tapped Wednesday to give the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, spoke at the event attended by 700, which raised more than $750,000. Many here had been waiting for the North Carolina senator for more than an hour in the bright sun, which glinted off the gold-capped dome of the Capitol. Edwards was introduced by Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D), whom Kerry had considered for the second spot on the ticket.

Flashing his trademark smile, Edwards told the crowd that while campaigning across the state last winter, he and Kerry had listened to the hopes and fears of middle- and working-class families. "We heard your voices . . . you are part of who we are and your cause is our cause," he said.

In closing, Edwards echoed the words he used to wrap up his stump speech when he was campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination: "We have to make John Kerry our next president because he represents hope . . . hope for you . . . hope for your children, hope for the future of America." He then doffed his suit coat and spent a half-hour reaching across the yellow tape to shake hands with members of the crowd.

Dennis Adams, 53, who voted for Edwards during the caucuses in January, said he was very pleased that Edwards will be on the party's ticket. "It's a message of hope and it's a message that Senator Edwards can give with vibrancy and vitality and to the point." Asked if he found Edwards as exciting as he did during the primary contest, Adams, an artist, said, "Everybody loses their luster, just like a new car, but I think he still has that vibrancy and that vitality and he is just an excellent speaker -- he still gives a great spark."

Alicia Rollison, who stood under the shade of a tree with her 13-month-old nephew, James, and saw Edwards in person for the first time was impressed.

Rollison, 26, a high school history teacher, said she voted for Kerry in the caucuses, but thinks Edwards is a good political partner for the Massachusetts senator. "I think especially him coming from the South will help a lot."

Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards greets the crowd at a campaign rally in Des Moines.