Thursday, July 29, 2004

BOSTON — Sen. John Edwards vowed last night that if elected, he and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry “will win this war” in Iraq.

Mr. Edwards, the party’s vice-presidential pick, also promised to fight terrorism, telling al Qaeda in particular, “You cannot run. You cannot hide. We will destroy you,” as the Democratic National Convention went through the formality of officially nominating Mr. Kerry.

But on a night meant to highlight the party’s commitment to security, the loudest applause lines came during a series of fiery anti-war speeches.

“We lost hundreds of soldiers. We spent $200 billion at a time [when] we had record state deficits. And when it became clear that there was no weapons, they changed the premise for the war, and said, ‘No, we went because of other reasons,’” the Rev. Al Sharpton said.

The New York minister was one of Mr. Kerry’s challengers during the primary and carried the anti-war banner for Democrats both then and last night.

“If I told you tonight to, ‘Let’s leave the FleetCenter, we’re in danger,’ and when you get outside you ask me, ‘Reverend Al, what is the danger?’ and I say, ‘It don’t matter. We just needed some fresh air,’ I have misled you. And we were misled,” he said.

Mr. Kerry tapped Mr. Edwards of North Carolina to be the vice-presidential candidate because of the appeal of his “Two Americas” message and his ease with talking about values. Mr. Edwards delivered on that promise last night.

“Where I come from, you don’t judge someone’s values based on how they use that word in a political ad. You judge their values based upon what they’ve spent their life doing,” Mr. Edwards said. “So when a man volunteers to serve his country, a man volunteers and puts his life on the line for others, that’s a man who represents real American values.”

Mr. Edwards also showed a deft touch in weaving into his positive message an attack on President Bush and the Republican Party’s message.

“The Republicans are doing all they can to take this campaign for the highest office in the land down the lowest possible road,” Mr. Edwards said. “This is where you come in. Between now and November, you, the American people, you can reject the tired, old, hateful, negative politics of the past.”

He detailed some of the campaign’s domestic priorities, including a $4,000-a-year tax credit for college tuition, a $1,000 tax credit for child care, tax penalties for American companies that move jobs overseas and increased spending for education.

“Hope is on the way,” he said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, officially placed Mr. Kerry’s nomination before the convention early in the evening. No other name was formally submitted. Mr. Kerry was officially nominated after Mr. Edwards spoke, with the battleground state of Ohio finally delivering the 2,162 votes to cement the nomination. When the roll call finally ended at 12:15 this morning, Mr. Kerry had 4,254 votes, with 43 delegates voting for other candidates.

But with Mr. Kerry’s nomination a foregone conclusion for many months, the point of the evening was to prove to American voters that Democrats can keep the country safe and, just as important, to indict Mr. Bush’s ability to do so.

A video showed a series of retired high-ranking military officers calling for a change in leadership and endorsing Mr. Kerry as a commander of military forces.

And both retired Gen. Claudia Kennedy and retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John M. Shalikashvili endorsed Mr. Kerry from the podium.

Gen. Shalikashvili, who led the Joint Chiefs from 1993 to 1997, said Mr. Kerry “understands the dangers and is fully prepared for the challenges ahead.”

But the anti-war wing of the party clearly made itself heard, although their speeches came in the hours before the broadcast television networks began their hour’s worth of programming.

“We’re mad as hell that our kids are being used as fodder, that they have to join the military because they can’t find a job,” said Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat.

And musician Wyclef Jean performed a song in which he said that should Mr. Kerry get elected on Friday, he should sign a truce on Sunday and pull U.S. troops out on Monday.

But the strongest anti-war call came from Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat and the last candidate to endorse Mr. Kerry and drop out of the race, which he did just last week.

“This administration rushed us into a war based on distortions and misrepresentations. We must hold them accountable,” he said. “Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 or with al Qaeda’s role in 9/11. We have found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

“I was mayor of Cleveland, and I tell you that I’ve seen weapons of mass destruction in our cities. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. Joblessness is a weapon of mass destruction,” Mr. Kucinich said.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of the 1968 presidential candidate, said he was breaking with his own tradition of nonpartisanship to attack Mr. Bush.

“It took us 350 years to build up those reservoirs of moral authority people loved around the world,” he said. “In 31/2 years, this president destroyed that investment.”

The speeches underscored the deep division between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards, who both voted for the war, and the majority of the party’s delegates, who are strongly opposed to the continued American presence in Iraq.

Those delegates have a much deeper interest in traditional Democratic priorities. Last night, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, articulated that position.

“For tens of millions of Americans, the most imminent threat to their lives is our failure to provide quality health care for all,” Mr. Cummings said. “Our greatest long-term threat to our national security is our failure to properly educate all of our children.”

The honor of the best orator of the night went to Mr. Sharpton, who aimed his remarks directly at Mr. Bush.

“In all due respect, Mr. President, read my lips: Our vote is not for sale,” Mr. Sharpton said.

He said he was answering the questions that Mr. Bush posed last week to black voters, when he spoke to the Urban League.

Mr. Bush asked black voters whether Democrats had done enough to earn their support lately, but Mr. Sharpton said the ties between the party and its strongest base of voters go much deeper than that and cited Republican failures with blacks going back to the post-Civil War promises of the 1870s.

“We went all the way to Herbert Hoover, and we never got the 40 acres. We didn’t get the mule. So we decided we’d ride this donkey as far as it takes,” he said.

For his part, Mr. Edwards drew the crowd to his feet with his “Two Americas” theme, which was the middle third of his 30-minute speech.

He also spent time introducing himself and his family and trying to show that he has the experience needed should he have to assume the presidency.

“As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I know that we have to do more to fight the war on terrorism and keep the American people safe,” he said. “One thing I can tell you: When we’re in office, it won’t take three years to get the reforms in our intelligence that are necessary to keep the American people safe.”

Rebecca Landry, a commercial real-estate appraiser from New Orleans, said Mr. Edwards brings something special to the ticket.

“He’s fantastic. He brings something new, refreshing, rather than the same old bitter anger,” she said.

Since being selected earlier this month, Mr. Edwards has seemed the natural and, in fact, only choice that Mr. Kerry could have made. But in many ways, Mr. Edwards is a stunning nominee.

A one-term senator with no political experience, he gained prominence when 2000 Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore included Mr. Edwards’ name on the list of potential vice-presidential picks.

He turned that brief national spotlight into a full-blown presidential campaign, along the way surprising many in his own party as he outlasted Democrats with far longer resumes such as Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

And even though he was trounced by Mr. Kerry, he won the affection of Democratic voters. The call for a Kerry-Edwards ticket began six months ago, and some Democrats, even as they cast primary ballots for Mr. Kerry, said their heart was with Mr. Edwards.

But Republicans, speaking yesterday morning, said Mr. Edwards won’t affect the race much.

“I don’t think the running mate of Senator Kerry can carry his own state,” said Pat McCrory, mayor of Charlotte, N.C.

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