Calling on American voters to "embrace the politics of hope," John Edwards of North Carolina began his vice presidential quest Wednesday by accusing his Republican opponents of trying to "take this campaign for the highest office in the land down the lowest possible road."
The North Carolina senator, who launched his public career only six years ago, capped his latest political triumph with a rousing speech marked by the same oratory that propelled him to second place in the 2004 presidential primaries.
Edwards spoke shortly before delegates at this Democratic National Convention formally bestowed their nomination on John F. Kerry, a process that lacked the drama of brokered conventions of the past but still set off a wild celebration.
Kerry needed 2,162 votes to clinch the nomination and Ohio, a key electoral state, gave him the prize about 35 minutes after the roll call began.
Meanwhile, the approximately 20,000 people attending the convention in the FleetCenter not only accepted Kerry's choice as vice presidential candidate but also roared its approval.
"Between now and November -- you, the American people -- you can reject the tired, old, hateful, negative politics of the past," Edwards said to a huge ovation. "And instead, you can embrace the politics of hope, the politics of what's possible because this is America, where everything is possible."
Though often critical of his onetime opponent during the primary campaign, Edwards accepted his new role Wednesday by echoing the Kerry praise that has engulfed this convention since Monday. He pointed to Kerry's heroics in Vietnam, his long service in the Senate, and drew a clear distinction between him and President Bush.
And by painting Kerry as a decisive and confident leader capable of leading the nation in the war on terrorism, Edwards highlighted another major convention theme. Kerry's Swift boat crewmates in Vietnam, he said, witnessed it first hand.
"They saw him reach down into the river and pull a man out and save his life," Edwards said in his North Carolina drawl. "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," he said. "Is this not what we need in a commander-in-chief?"
Edwards catapulted to a leading position in this year's presidential contest with a message of "two different Americas -- one for people who have lived the American dream and don't have to worry, and another for most Americans who work hard and still struggle to make ends meet."
"You know what I mean, don't you?" he said.
He maintained many of those thoughts Wednesday, laying out a case like the trial lawyer he was against disparities in health care, education and the overall economy.
"It doesn't have to be that way," he said over and over again, much to the delight of the crowd.
Referring to Kerry's economic program, Edwards said it relies on tax hikes on Americans in the top 2 percent of income.
In addition, he made strong pitches for building a nation "no longer divided by race," transforming his "two Americas" theme into the need to build "one America."
"We don't believe in tearing people apart. We believe in bringing people together," he said. "What we believe -- what I believe -- is that the family you're born into and the color of your skin in our America should never control your destiny."
In a slap at the Bush administration, he said Kerry will "build and lead strong alliances and safeguard and secure weapons of mass destruction."
"And we will have one clear unmistakable message for al-Qaida and the rest of these terrorists: You can run. You cannot hide. And we will destroy you," he added.
Edwards' daughter, Cate, introduced her mother, Elizabeth, who introduced the candidate, citing the optimism that many political observers say formed the foundation of her husband's wide appeal.
"I married him because he was the single most optimistic person I have ever known," she said. "He knew there was a brighter day ahead even as he swept the floors in the cotton mill as a high school student. He knew, if he worked hard enough, he could be the first in his family to go to college.
"He knew that he could outwork any battalion of lawyers to find justice, and he continued that fight in Washington courageously, eloquently, with one over-arching and simple goal: to make the great opportunities of America available to all Americans."
Kerry and Edwards seemed to score a major coup with an address by Gen. John Shalikashvili, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. While supporting the war on terrorism, the general echoed Kerry and Edwards' concern over the lack of international cooperation in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"John Kerry has made it crystal clear that no matter how strong we might be, success in the war on terror or in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan and to Iraq will likely elude us unless we bring friends and allies to our side both for the fight and for the long, hard work of reconstruction," he said.
"We must do this not because we need anyone's approval when we act to protect our security, but because we are more effective when friends and allies stand by our side as together we share the burden and the risks."
Edwards' parents, Wallace and Bobbie Edwards, were seated in the auditorium, and Edwards' three children, including Emma Claire, 6, and Jack, 4, joined him and Elizabeth on stage after the speech.