Kerry-Edwards team makes debut
Bush defends Cheney on stop in Edwards' base state
CNN's John King on Bush's campaigning in North Carolina.
CNN's Bill Schneider on what poll respondents say about Edwards.
CNN's Barbara Starr on the GOP's criticism of Edwards' military votes.
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CNN) -- Making their political debut as a team, Sen. John Kerry and running mate Sen. John Edwards have hit the campaign trail, stumping first in the Midwest before turning to Florida.
On Thursday, they hold a rally in Fort Lauderdale before traveling to New York City for a Radio City Music Hall concert in the evening.
Much of Wednesday was spent rousing the party faithful and sparring long-distance with Republicans over which vice presidential candidate is better qualified. (Gallery: On the campaign trail)
Seeking to build on the momentum from Tuesday's selection of Edwards as his running mate, Kerry lavished praise on the North Carolinian.
"This is a man who shares my unyielding optimism and sense of hope about our nation, about the possibilities of the future," Kerry said at a rally in Cleveland. "Together, we are going to restore to America the values that belong to Americans and define us as a people." (A profile of John Edwards)
Kerry called the Democratic duo a "dream team."
"We've got better vision. We've got better ideas. We've got real plans," he said. "And we've got better hair. I'll tell you, that goes a long way."
Edwards told the enthusiastic crowd that "what I know is that we're going to win this election."
"We're going to make America stronger, and we're going to create respect for America all around the world -- the America that all of us believe in," Edwards said. "We need a president that will lead the world, not bully it."
President Bush likewise expressed confidence Wednesday during a stop in Edwards' home state of North Carolina, which he carried by 13 points four years ago.
The event had been scheduled before Kerry picked Edwards as his running mate, but the timing turned out to be fortuitous.
"I did well here in 2000 because the North Carolinian voter understood we share values. I'm going to do well again in 2004," Bush said.
"I also know that when they go to the polls to vote for president that they'll understand that the senator from Massachusetts doesn't share their values."
Asked how he thought Edwards stacked up against Vice President Dick Cheney, Bush said, "Dick Cheney can be president," alluding to GOP criticism that the one-term senator lacks experience in a time of war and terrorism.
Kerry responded to that jab later in the day at a rally in Dayton, saying Edwards has "more experience and better judgment" than Bush did when he became president after serving six years as governor of Texas.
"It seems to me as if he doesn't have a record to run on, he's got a record to run away from, so he's just attacking everybody," Kerry said.
"He was right that Dick Cheney was ready to take over on day one -- and he did, and he has been ever since, folks. And that's what we've got to change."
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, taken Tuesday after Edwards was selected, showed voters viewed Edwards' limited political experience as a liability, with 55 percent calling it a weakness and only 40 percent a strength.
But a majority -- 57 percent -- said they thought Edwards was qualified to be president.
Edwards also has higher favorability ratings than Cheney, who has become a lightning rod for criticism of the Bush administration in the wake of the Iraq war.
Former GOP Sen. Al D'Amato of New York publicly suggested Wednesday that Bush dump Cheney, saying the president could guarantee his re-election by picking a more popular running mate, such as Secretary of State Colin Powell or Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
Reacting to those comments, Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt said, "Under Dick Cheney, this has been the most substantive vice presidency in history."
Kerry's selection of a Southerner to fill out his ticket has also given Democratic strategists hope that some states in the region may come into play this year.
But Bush, who carried every state in the South in 2000, rebutted such speculation by pointing to Kerry at the top of the ticket, rather than Edwards in the No. 2 slot.
"I'll do well in the South this time because the senator from Massachusetts doesn't share their values, and that's the difference in the campaign," he said.
Wednesday's stops in Ohio by Kerry and Edwards were the start of a four-day, six-state campaign swing that will end Saturday in Edwards' hometown of Robbins, North Carolina.
After events in Cleveland and Dayton, the new team traveled to Florida for a late-night rally in Clearwater.
Ohio, which Bush carried by four points in 2000, is considered a key toss-up state this time around because its economy has been hit by the recent recession and job losses.
Likewise, Florida, highly disputed in 2000, is being targeted by both camps.
Michigan, where Bush also campaigned Wednesday, was carried by Democrat Al Gore four years ago by five points.
But the Bush campaign is hopeful that both Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Gore carried by a similar margin, can be moved to the GOP column this year, and the president has repeatedly visited both states.