Edwards touches nerve in middle America

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The Independent US

Everybody knows he has the looks, the energy and the charm. But John Edwards, it is clear, also has the aim of a marksman.

In what was perhaps his most important political speech yet, the Democratic vice presidential candidate delivered a convention address that, with its tone and content, was targeted precisely at those people who can help deliver this election.

By Mr Edwards' own high standards - and the attendant media hype - his speech on Wednesday night was a little flat and lacked some of the passion for which he is known and for which John Kerry selected him to be his running mate.

But in terms of the issues on which he touched and the visceral appeal he made to working Americans, Mr Edwards' speech was nothing less than textbook. From the long, roaring ovation he received from the delegates it was clear he had touched a nerve.

Continuing the "Two Americas" theme which proved popular during the primaries, Mr Edwards said: "I stand here tonight ready to work with you and John to make America stronger. And we have much work to do, because the truth is, we still live in a country where there are two different Americas.

"Millions of Americans have no health coverage at all. It doesn't have to be that way. We have a plan ... We shouldn't have two public school systems in this country: one for the most affluent communities, and one for everybody else ... It doesn't have to be that way ... John Kerry and I believe there should not be two different economies in America: one for people who are set for life, they know their kids and their grand-kids are going to be just fine; and then one for most Americans, people who live pay-cheque to pay-cheque. You don't need me to explain this to you do you?"

While Mr Edwards may have been speaking at the convention, his televised prime-time address with its theme of "hope is on the way" was aimed very much at middle America and those swing-voters who the Democrats must persuade. Healthcare, jobs, education, equal opportunities and proper treatment for military veterans were amongst the populist issues he mentioned repeatedly in his 25-minute speech.

Mr Edwards was also quick to stress Mr Kerry's leadership qualities and his military record. It is clearly the Democrats' plan that, by the end of this campaign, there will no one in America who is not aware that Mr Kerry served in Vietnam. "When John Kerry graduated college, he volunteered for military service, volunteered to go to Vietnam, volunteered to captain a Swift Boat, one of the most dangerous duties in Vietnam that you could have," he said. "If you have any question about what he's made of, just spend three minutes with the men who served with him then and who stand with him now. They saw up close what he's made of."

Mr Edwards was introduced by his wife, Elizabeth, who said: "I married him because he was the single most optimistic person that I have ever known. He knew there was a brighter day ahead even as he swept the floors of the cotton mill as a high school student."

Reports suggest that Mr Edwards, the Senator for North Carolina, was chosen not so much for his appeal in the south but in the crucial mid-west states, where focus groups had suggested his plain-speaking, populist approach was most appealing. On Wednesday, as Mr Edwards stood swinging his young son in his arms and with his wife, daughter and elder daughter at his side, it was clear just where he had been speaking.