Democratic presidential contender John Kerry and his vice presidential running mate John Edwards wrapped up their first joint campaign swing Saturday with a rally in Mr. Edwards' hometown. Thousands of supporters braved sweltering heat to welcome the candidates to Raleigh, North Carolina.
After four days of almost non-stop campaigning, John Edwards came home.
"It is such a privilege for me to come back home...to come back home to my state, the state that I love," he said.
There was nothing low-key about the welcome, as North Carolina Democrats embraced their favorite son. They gathered on the campus of North Carolina State University, spilling over from a park-like area of green into surrounding streets and alleyways.
They cheered as music signaled the imminent arrival of the candidates, and seemed energized by the sight of Mr. Edwards standing side by side with John Kerry. The Massachusetts senator appeared to relish the moment.
"Let me ask you a favor," he said. "Would you let me borrow John Edwards for at least four years?"
The crowd stood for hours in the hot North Carolina sun. Some people fanned themselves with campaign posters, others shared bottles of water as they wiped the sweat from their necks and faces.
But no one seemed to have any regrets. Janet Rubio attended the rally with her husband, 13-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter. She said they had to come and show their support for the Kerry-Edwards ticket.
"I believe in him and that is why we are here and we want to teach our children to be involved because it counts," she said. "We are Latino and I think we should be more involved in the politics so our vote can count and make a difference."
Sean Conner stood nearby and nodded in agreement. Speaking with a distinctive North Carolina drawl, he said Democrats are not so much energized as determined to take back the White House. He said he does not know if John Edwards will help John Kerry in the South, which has become heavily Republican in recent years. But he does believe Mr. Edwards, who grew up the son of a textile worker in a small town, has a story and a message that will resonate with voters in the working-class and rural communities of America.
"You can see this guy having to work for each and everything he has been able to achieve," he said. "And when you look at him beginning where he did - - I look at my son and I look at all the children around here and they can look at him and aspire to the highest office in the land simply because they have seen somebody do it." Democrats hope that the Kerry-Edwards ticket will also appeal to young first-time voters, and there were plenty at the campus rally. Bernard Holloway drove to the event with a group of friends from the nearby University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He believes both major political parties realize that the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 changed the way young adults view the political process, and both are actively seeking their votes.
"I would say for a lot of people our age, 9-11 was the first major national event in our lifetimes to organize people," he said. "And it has made people a lot more engaged in what is going on politically."
And then there were those in the crowd who are years away from casting their first ballot. Eleven-year-old Andrew Frawley sat under a shady tree and pointed at his dad. He said they are talking politics at home, and he knows how he would cast his ballot, if he was only old enough to do so.
"Kerry is a really good person and I have seen some of his speeches on the news," he said. "And I think he should be the president."
Each presidential election year, candidates spend millions of dollars in the United States getting their message to the voters. What each hopes to achieve - with rallies like the one in Raleigh - is the simple realization among members of the voting public that he, or she, should indeed be the president.