US Democrats set to formally nominate Kerry
US Senator John Edwards hailed his new boss John Kerry as a battle-tested leader poised to reverse "hateful" Republican policies as Democrats prepared to send the pair into combat against George W. Bush.
The eloquent southern populist, Kerry's choice for running-mate, was to take the stage at the Democratic National Convention to fire up the delegates just before they formally nominate the Massachusetts senator for the presidency.
In prepared remarks, Edwards combined high praise for Kerry with scathing words for Republicans he accused of "doing all they can to take this campaign for the highest office in the land down the lowest possible road."
He called on Americans to "reject the tired, old, hateful, negative, politics of the past" and "embrace the politics of hope, the politics of what's possible because this is America, where everything is possible."
On the eve of Kerry's acceptance speech that could be crucial to his chances for capturing the White House, Edwards took part in a concerted effort to boost the Vietnam war hero's credentials as a determined and tough leader.
He said Kerry's navy comrades "saw up close what he's made of. They saw him reach down and pull one of his men from the river and save his life.
"And in the heat of battle, they saw him decide in an instant to turn his boat around, drive it straight through an enemy position, and chase down the enemy to save his crew.
"Decisive. Strong. Aren't these the traits you want in a commander in chief?" asked Edwards, who was to be formally anointed to the number two slot on the ticket on Thursday.
Evoking the US dead and wounded in Iraq, Edwards said, "They are the best and the bravest. They will never be left behind, and you understand that.
"And they deserve a president who understands that on the most personal level what they have gone through, what they have given and what they have given up for their country."
With polls showing Kerry still trailing Bush on issues of leadership and decisiveness, the Democrats went all out to tout his mettle, lining up the endorsements Wednesday of 12 retired generals and admirals.
Bush's opponent in the November 2 election wrapped up a week-long, cross-country campaign push, crossing Boston harbour by boat in the company of veterans he served with in Vietnam.
The senator told a rally at the harbour's edge that he was relishing the opportunity "to share with you and all of America a vision for how we're going to make this country stronger at home and more respected abroad."
But Democrats were counting on Edwards, a smooth-talking former trial lawyer from the southern state of North Carolina, to add energy to what has been a largely lackluster convention and overall campaign.
Edwards was to be preceded by three other people who lost to Kerry in the Democratic primaries: Florida Senator Bob Graham, Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich and the Reverend Al Sharpton.
Wednesday was programmed to focus on security issues, just as Tuesday was to have been devoted to telling Kerry's story as a Vietnam War hero and public servant.
But with polls showing many Americans still unfamiliar with Kerry and his political views, efforts to sharpen his positive message have been overshadowed by non-stop criticism of Bush by speaker after speaker.
The loudest cheers have gone to symbols of the party's past and future: former president Bill Clinton, who brought the 20,000 delegates and guests to their feet on Monday, and rising star Barack Obama, who is vying to become only the third black member of the US senate, who was acclaimed Tuesday.
Even would-be first lady Teresa Heinz Kerry, who also spoke Tuesday, spent much of her time hitting back at critics after her run-in with a reporter she told to "shove it."
The convention came at a critical time for Kerry, who appears to be losing ground to Bush in several areas ahead of the November 2 election.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday showed that, while Kerry was running neck and neck with Bush, 54 percent of Americans were still unfamiliar with his positions. Among Democrats alone, the percentage was 46 percent.