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Inside Politics

Kerry, Edwards prepare for first joint appearance

Democratic ticket to hit the road Wednesday

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John Kerry names John Edwards his running mate.

Two senators - one from the North, one from the South - make up the ticket.

CNN's Bill Schneider on looking for the 'VP bounce.'
Is John Edwards the best choice as John Kerry's running mate?
John F. Kerry
John Edwards
George W. Bush
Dick Cheney

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- The newly minted Democratic duo of Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards were getting acquainted Tuesday night on an estate near Pittsburgh, ahead of their first public appearance together as a presidential ticket, set for Wednesday morning.

Ending weeks of speculation, Kerry tapped Edwards as his vice presidential running mate in a phone call Tuesday morning, and the North Carolinian accepted.

But in an unusual move designed to maintain the element of surprise, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee announced his choice at a rally in downtown Pittsburgh alone, while Edwards watched the speech at his home in Washington.

"I know his skill. I know his passion. I know his strength. I know his conscience," said Kerry, a four-term U.S. senator from Massachusetts.

"He has honored the lessons of home and family that he learned in North Carolina, and he brings those values to shape a better America together with all of us."

After Kerry spoke, Vice President Dick Cheney called Edwards to congratulate him on his selection, and tell the senator that he looked forward to a spirited campaign and their October 5 debate, Cheney spokesman Kevin Kellems said.

Other Republicans gave Edwards a less cordial reception, attacking the ticket as a marriage of two liberals, lambasting Edwards' background as a trial lawyer -- and tagging him as inexperienced by trotting out critical comments Kerry made about him during their heated battle for the Democratic nomination.

"I think Senator Kerry was probably more accurate earlier in the year when he said John Edwards is someone who can't even carry his own state of North Carolina," said Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie. "I think he was more accurate than he is today."

The Bush campaign also tweaked its Democratic rivals over Kerry's earlier overtures to Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona to be his running mate, launching a TV ad called "First Choice" in which McCain lavishes praise on President Bush.

In response, the Democratic National Committee released an ad on the Web highlighting critical comments McCain said about Bush when they were rivals for the GOP nomination in 2000.

McCain appeared tickled by the attention, noting that both campaigns were using him.

"I'm a uniter, not a divider," he quipped to reporters. (Full story)

After spending the morning accepting congratulatory calls, Edwards, accompanied by his wife and three children, flew to Pittsburgh, where the two families had a private let's-get-acquainted evening at Teresa Heinz Kerry's 90-acre Rosemont Farm.

Kerry's new No. 2 did not speak to reporters as he was leaving his Georgetown home, nor did he make any public comments after he arrived in Pittsburgh and shook hands with supporters at the airport.

But he did issue a statement saying he was "thrilled" to accept Kerry's offer.

"I've served with John Kerry. He is a man of strength, character and courage. He has a vision for our country that will make life better for all Americans," Edwards said.

Democrats lavished praise on Kerry's decision and the new Democratic team.

Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, who had been considered a top contender for running mate, said the Democrats made for an "exciting ticket" that would appeal to "independent voters or nonvoters who have stayed away from voting."

Kerry and Edwards were scheduled to appear in public early Wednesday before leaving for a campaign event in Cleveland.

Edwards viewed favorably in poll

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken Tuesday found that 64 percent of registered voters surveyed viewed the choice of Edwards as excellent or pretty good, while just 28 percent termed it only fair or poor.

Seventy percent said they were either enthusiastic or satisfied by the choice, while only 19 percent described themselves as dissatisfied or angry.

Still, two-thirds of the registered voters queried said the selection of Edwards would have no effect on their vote in November, while a quarter said it would make them more likely to vote for Kerry.

The poll also showed that among voters, Edwards was popular but still somewhat unknown. Asked their opinion of him, 54 percent viewed him favorably and just 16 percent unfavorably -- but 30 percent said they were unsure.

Asked about Edwards' limited experience in office, 55 percent said it was a weakness, and only 40 percent thought it was a strength.

But 57 percent still said they thought Edwards was qualified to serve as president if called upon to fill the office, compared with 29 percent who thought he was not.

The margin of error in the poll of 553 registered voters was plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Edwards lauds Southern roots

Previous polls showed that Edwards was the top choice of Democratic voters for Kerry's running mate, and he was also the pick of many party leaders.

Although his legal career made him a millionaire, the telegenic Edwards, 51, emphasized his background as the son of a small-town mill worker during the primary campaign.

An accomplished stump speaker, the senator insisted he could beat Bush in the South, rousing audiences with his fiery declaration that "the South is not George Bush's back yard -- it's my back yard."

But Kerry and Edwards had a sometimes prickly relationship during the primaries, and it was unclear until the very last minute that Edwards would be the choice. Two other men were also seriously considered: Gephardt and Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa.

Kerry's decision was first announced in an e-mail sent to contributors and supporters, followed by his formal announcement at the rally. (Full story)

The Kerry-Edwards ticket is the first national ticket to feature two sitting senators since the Kennedy-Johnson pairing in 1960. Historically, however, a Senate connection hasn't been a launching pad to the White House. During the past century, only two sitting senators -- Warren Harding and John F. Kennedy -- have been elected to the presidency.

Edwards is also the first North Carolinian on a national ticket in 152 years. The last was William Alexander Graham, the unsuccessful Whig vice presidential candidate in 1852.

Democratic strategists said that in addition to adding Southern appeal to the ticket, Edwards could also boost Kerry in key swing states in the Midwest hit hard by job losses.

Republicans already attacking

A senior Republican source involved in the Bush re-election strategy said Gephardt would have been a stronger pick in that regard because of his ties to labor, and Vilsack would have moved Iowa firmly into the Democratic column.

During the primaries, Edwards emphasized his appeal to independent and cross-party swing voters. The GOP source also disputed that analysis, saying Edwards faced almost certain defeat in his home state of North Carolina if he had run for re-election.

And in an era of war and terrorism, Republicans were also quick to pounce on what they charge is Edwards' thin resume in comparison with Cheney, who was a five-term congressman and a defense secretary before becoming vice president.

"He's a charming guy who was a suing lawyer -- that's S-U-I-N-G lawyer -- who dropped by the Senate for four years and thought he was ready to be president," said Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi. "Now he wants to be vice president. What credentials does he have? Zero."

Edwards' background as a trial lawyer is expected to be particular fodder for Republicans, who have been championing measures to limit class-action lawsuits and rein in large damage awards in medical malpractice cases.

Edwards has defended his legal career, saying he was proud that he stood up for wronged individuals against powerful special interests.

During the primary campaign, Kerry himself took aim at Edwards' lack of foreign policy experience, noting at one point that when he returned home from serving in Vietnam in 1969, "I don't even know if John Edwards was out of diapers."

But Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, defended Edwards' experience Tuesday, noting that he "has a lot more Washington experience than George Bush had four years ago."

"When you look at what John Edwards has done for working families, for people who have been fighting hard all their lives to make ends meet, I can't think of a more qualified candidate than John Edwards," Daschle said.

CNN's John King, Dana Bash, Kelly Wallace, Candy Crowley and Ed Henry contributed to this report.

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