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Inside Politics

Edwards: 'Hope is on the way'

Running mate delivers populist pitch for a Kerry presidency

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

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Day Four: Thursday

• Theme: "Stronger at Home, Respected in the World"

• 4 p.m. ET: Session opens

• 7-9:45 p.m. ET: Speakers include Madeleine Albright, Joe Biden, Wesley Clark, Joe Lieberman, Nancy Pelosi and Carole King performing "You've Got a Friend"

• 9:45 p.m. ET: Family members of John Kerry speak -- Vanessa and Alexandra Kerry, Chris and Andre Heinz

• 10 p.m. ET: Veterans of Kerry's crew in Vietnam speak, followed by Sen. Max Cleland's introduction of Kerry

• 10:30 p.m. ET: John Kerry delivers his address in acceptance of the Democratic presidential nomination
Do you know what John Kerry stands for?
America Votes 2004
John F. Kerry
John Edwards

BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Declaring that "hope is on the way," John Edwards delivered an impassioned and populist pitch Wednesday night for Democrats to retake the White House this fall.

Appearing before the Democratic National Convention as John Kerry's running mate, Edwards lavished praise on him as a "decisive" and "strong" military hero, and cast himself as a product of small town America.

"Nothing makes me prouder than standing with him in this campaign," said Edwards, 51, a one-term U.S. senator from North Carolina. "I am so humbled to be your candidate for vice president of the United States." (Read transcript)

While never mentioning President Bush by name, Edwards also took sharp aim at Republicans, accusing them of "old, hateful, negative politics of the past."

"They are doing all they can to take this campaign for the highest office in the land down the lowest road possible," Edwards said, challenging Americans to "embrace the politics of hope."

Describing himself as the son of a mill worker, Edwards returned to a theme he had articulated during his own unsuccessful bid for his party's presidential nomination -- that of "two different Americas" where only some have "lived the American dream."

He talked of two health care systems, two public school systems, "two different economies" in the country.

"It doesn't have to be that way," said Edwards. "We can build one America."

Edwards made a fortune as a highly successful trial lawyer before turning to politics, and his oratorical skills, honed in the courtroom, were on full display.

He had little trouble winning over this jury -- a fired-up crowd of Democratic delegates, who interrupted his speeches with loud cheers and applause.

Fire marshals had to restrict access to the FleetCenter even before Edwards began because the site was packed to capacity.

"We choose hope over despair, possibilities over problems, optimism over cynicism," Edwards said. "We choose to do what's right even when those around us say, 'You can't do that.'

"We choose to be inspired because we know that we can do better, because this is America where everything is still possible."

At home, Edwards said a Kerry presidency would mean quicker responses to terrorism and more tax credits for health care and college -- paid for by rolling by tax breaks for the wealthy.

Abroad, he described stronger ties with allies in the effort to "build a stable Iraq" and an unrelenting fight against terrorists.

"We will destroy you," Edwards said of terrorists.

Edwards hit on a refrain -- "hope is on the way" -- to drive home his point that too many Americans were working too hard for too little.

And he emphasized Kerry's military service in Vietnam as he argued that the Democrat would be better able to bring an end to the turmoil in Iraq.

"John understands personally about fighting in a war," Edwards said.

Even before Edwards appeared before the convention, many delegates said they were impressed by him because of his spirited performance on the campaign trail this winter and spring.

"I think John Edwards is a brilliant, progressive, fair man," said Neil Sims, a delegate from California. "I'm excited to have him as part of the leadership of this country."

After the speech, delegates appeared even more enthusiastic.

"He spoke from his heart and spoke to all America," said Jeremy Harris, the mayor of Honolulu. "I think he inspired a nation tonight."

Edwards -- who was introduced Wednesday night by his wife, Elizabeth -- opened his speech with a tribute to his family, including his son Wade, who was killed in an car accident in 1996 when he was 16.

Edwards appeared to make an oblique reference to that loss toward the end of his speech, when he spoke of two lessons in life.

One, he said, was that there would "always be "heartache and struggle." The other, he said, was that good people can make a difference.

"One's a sad lesson, and the other's inspiring," Edwards said. "We are Americans and we choose to be inspired."

CNN's Wayne Drash contributed to this report.

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