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Campaign 2004:  Kerry-Edwards Ticket Debuts to Cheers, Jeers - 2004-07-12

After weeks of intense media speculation, Senator John Kerry, who will challenge President George Bush in the November 2004 U.S. presidential election, announced that he had chosen his running mate: John Edwards, a first-term senator from the state of North Carolina. As VOA’s Serena Parker reports, while Democrats cheered the selection, Republicans question whether John Edwards has the political experience necessary to be vice president.

Democratic presidential contender John Kerry has traveled across the country in recent weeks on his campaign to unseat President Bush and become the forty-fourth president of the United States. On Tuesday, he answered the question so many Americans had been asking: who would be his running mate? “I am pleased to announce that with your help the next Vice President of the United States of America will be Senator John Edwards from North Carolina,” he announced to loud cheers.

The next day the two men and their families appeared together before embarking on a four-day campaign tour through some of the states that will be important in the upcoming election. John Edwards told the American public he was honored to have been selected by Mr. Kerry and promised to work hard for a better America.

“That’s what this is about for us and so many Americans,” he said. “This campaign is about the future and it’s about restoring hope. People are desperate to believe again that tomorrow will be better than today.”

Political pundits said the selection was fairly predictable. Anna Greenberg, vice president at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Democratic polling firm, says Edwards’ upbeat campaign message during the Democratic presidential primaries appealed to a lot of working class Democrats and independent voters.

“I think he brings a very strong economic message,” she says. “He articulates better than anybody the notion that this is a country that despite great wealth has left a lot of people behind and that we have some very important economic issues to take on that have been neglected by the Bush Administration.”

During the Democratic primaries, John Edwards often spoke of “Two Americas,” one that does the work, the other that reaps the reward. According to Ferrel Guillory, analyst of southern politics at the University of North Carolina, Mr. Edwards’ background gives the message extra weight.

“His message flows out of, draws from his own personal experience as a great American success story,” he says. “That he grew up in a blue collar, textile-manufacturing family and environment and now he’s a multimillionaire trial lawyer, that he went to public universities, not one of the elite schools. But my point is that his whole story adds to the message because it suggests that the message is authentic as distinct from just being made up for the purposes of a campaign.”

Supporters praise John Edwards for his energy, enthusiasm and appeal. A popular gossip magazine labels the 51 year-old, married, father of four one of the sexiest politicians alive. But when President Bush was asked how John Edwards compares to Vice President Dick Cheney, he was brief and to the point: “Dick Cheney can be president. Next (question.)?”

President Bush and the Republicans say a one-term senator like John Edwards is not qualified to be vice president, a position that is just a heart-beat away from the nation’s highest office. According to Clifford May, former communications director for the Republican National Committee, in today’s world Americans want a vice president with foreign policy and national security experience, something he says John Edwards doesn’t have.

“The toughest criticism of him came from John Kerry during those primaries,” he says. “John Kerry said this is not a guy who is ready to be president, and if he’s not ready to be president, one might ask is he ready to be vice president? He doesn’t have a lot of time in politics. He’s in his first term as a senator. No legislation that he’s been lead sponsor of has yet passed into law. So he may be able to learn a lot, but right now I think it’s true that he’s not somebody who is particularly adept in the areas that are important for the nation.”

Democrats say in rebuttal that President Bush was a one-term governor when he was elected president. They add that John Kerry brings plenty of his own experience to the ticket. A highly decorated Vietnam veteran, he has served 19 years in the U.S. Senate. But both Democrats and Republicans agree that while vice presidents are important, what really matters are the names at the top of ticket – President George W. Bush and his challenger Senator John Kerry.