For Kerry, a positive new image

Team: The Democrats go on the stump, peddling warm rapport and small-town values.

The Kerry Campaign

ELECTION 2004 -- THE RACE FOR PRESIDENT For Kerry, a day of positive new images

July 08, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

DAYTON, Ohio - They grasped each other's arms. They leaned in for confidential whispers. They lavished each other with praise.

On a day of picturesque photo opportunities and staged rallies in pivotal states, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, his chosen running mate, Sen. John Edwards, and their families seized every chance to show the country a chummy, passionate and positive Democratic ticket - and to use their new pairing to inject vigor into a campaign that's locked in a tight race with President Bush.

The two teamed up for the first time yesterday in a campaign trip through swing states where Edwards' down-home appeal and populist message could aid Kerry's bid for the White House. They basked in the glow of their political union, strutting before news cameras, surrounded by their families, praising each other effusively and going out of their way to project a warm rapport, just months after the Democratic primaries exposed friction between them.

"We think this is a dream ticket," Kerry told a cheering crowd on Strawbridge Plaza just outside Cleveland's City Hall. "We've got better vision, we've got better ideas, we've got real plans, we've got a better sense of what's happening to America - and we've got better hair!"

Kerry, who some strategists believed would avoid choosing the charismatic Edwards for fear that the handsome North Carolinian would draw the limelight, made a point of stressing his new No. 2's mass appeal.

Noting that Cleveland was the first U.S. city to have electric streetlights, Kerry told the crowd: "Today, you are the first American city to get a different kind of electricity called John Edwards!"

Rallies here and in Cleveland, held in front of banners that read "Kerry-Edwards: A New Team for a New America," kicked off a four-day trip that the two are making this week with their families through closely contested states, including Florida, West Virginia and New Mexico. The journey is to end in Edwards' home state of North Carolina.

Kerry's words yesterday were calculated to defuse Republican charges that Edwards was his second choice for a running mate, after Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, had reportedly declined overtures from Kerry. Democratic strategists had salivated over a potential Kerry-McCain pairing as a "dream ticket."

GOP attacks

But in his own campaign appearance on Edwards' home turf, Bush hit on what promises to be another frequent Republican line of attack against Edwards, a freshman senator: that he is too inexperienced, especially on foreign affairs and defense, to be on a national ticket.

Kerry rushed to his running mate's defense, saying he "has more experience than George Bush and better judgment than he did when he became president." Turning the Cheney comparison back on Bush, Kerry said it is "right that Dick Cheney was ready to take over on Day 1, and he did, and he has done ever since, folks - and that's what we've got to change."

Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Kerry, asserted that Bush was "hitting the panic button" in attacking the Democratic ticket so shortly after it was announced.

"John Edwards," Devine said in a statement, "will be a vice president that Americans can trust and rely on, and the president knows it."

Bush predicted that he would repeat his 2000 victory in North Carolina, "because the people understand that we share values." Kerry will not fare well in Edwards' home state, the president said, because North Carolina voters "understand that the senator from Massachusetts doesn't share their values."

Small-town values

Edwards tried to chip away at the idea that socially conservative voters in his home state - or in battleground states in the industrial Northeast and Midwest - would reject the Democratic ticket.

"The real reason that John Kerry and I are here together is that we share the same values," Edwards said, grinning through a sudden downpour. "I'm talking about the values that I grew up with in that small town in North Carolina: faith, family, opportunity, responsibility, trying to make sure that everybody gets a chance to do what they're capable of doing."

Polls so far show a favorable public response to Kerry's choice of Edwards. In a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll taken Tuesday night, about two-thirds of respondents - 64 percent - said they thought Kerry's selection was excellent or good. Nine in 10 Democrats, and seven in 10 of all voters, reported being satisfied or enthusiastic about the choice, a CBS News poll found.

Yesterday, Kerry's campaign launched a $17 million advertising effort that highlights the biographies of Kerry and Edwards. The Kerry campaign, which will run the ads in battleground states until the party's convention this month, has added North Carolina to the list of states the ads will target.

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