Smiles, back-slapping and supportive spouses as reunited Democrats set out on election trail

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The Independent US

The faithful had been queuing for hours, gathering alongside the slate-grey waters of Lake Erie in anticipation of the"New Start". Excited, expectant and - in the main - easily won over, they wanted to be first to see the two-man ticket they hope will win back the White House.

The faithful had been queuing for hours, gathering alongside the slate-grey waters of Lake Erie in anticipation of the"New Start". Excited, expectant and - in the main - easily won over, they wanted to be first to see the two-man ticket they hope will win back the White House.

The rough-around-the-edges city of Cleveland may not have been the most obvious place for a presidential candidate and his newly-minted running mate to launch their tag-team bid for the nation's highest office but, from the moment John Kerry and John Edwards arrived here shortly before noon, the crowd of hundreds treated them like rock stars. There was screaming, a warm-up band, placard-waving and even one or two faintings.

"Together we are going to end the Bush presidency," yelled a beaming Mr Kerry on a stage set up in a park that had, until recently, been a parking lot. "Together, over the next 120 days, we are going to fight for the America we believe in."

If Mr Kerry and Mr Edwards are going to transform such campaign rhetoric into a bankable victory, it is in cities such as Cleveland and states such as Ohio, where they will need to be at their most convincing. Last time around, George Bush won this state by a margin of 4 per cent. Today, with an unemployment rate that is as high as 10 per cent in some of its urban areas, the Democrats believe it is a place they can win back.

It is clear from yesterday's events that Mr Kerry realises one of the most potent weapons in his armoury for this fight is the senator from North Carolina he selected just the day before to be his running mate.

Indeed, as Mr Edwards was welcomed on to the stage - looking as though he had come straight from the tanning room of a health club - it was a tough call to say whether he received louder applause than the man he hopes to be working for. Mr Kerry pretended not to notice.

"In 1879, something happened in Cleveland," continued Mr Kerry. "You may not know ... the public square was lit by electric street lights, the first city in America to get this. Today you are the first city to get a different kind of electricity - Senator John Edwards." A body of work has already been written about the relationship between these two men, which is said to be cordial rather than warm. Yesterday, as they stood on the stage with their wives, Elizabeth Edwards and Teresa Heinz Kerry, this foursome looked like two sets of parents at a wedding, eyeing the other up, polite but not entirely sure what sort of marriage this might be.

In so many ways, the two Js (is that what they are going to be called?) could not be more different. Mr Kerry, the serious, rather dour, grey-haired bearer of gravitas and experience, contrasts sharply with the more youthful, charismatic Mr Edwards, whose easy, southern accent and genuine charm made him such a success during the primary election season.

Of course, Mr Edwards - considerably less liberal politically than Mr Kerry - was selected to complement the older man, to make up for the shortfall in those areas of humour and vitality where he is most lacking. But experts said the decision also underlined Mr Kerry's self-confidence and assuredness, aware that he could be seen to fall short in some respects whenever he and his new running mate appear together.

Former vice-president Walter Mondale told the New York Times : "He's big enough to accept somebody on the ticket that has that kind of shiny and impressive personality - the public will see that." But as Mr Edwards, 51, spoke to the crowd, cheered and roared at every step, who would have not have forgiven him if he had wondered momentarily how things might have turned out if he, rather than Mr Kerry, had secured first place in the Iowa caucuses last January and used that victory to launch a truly national campaign.

If he was in any way disappointed, Mr Edwards did not show it, grinning like a child in a sweet shop. "I just heard my four-year-old son Jack ask why they are so many Americans everywhere," he said, looking to the youngest of his three children on the stage with him. Well, I have an answer for him, [It's] because when John Kerry is elected, we are going to restore real American values to this country. We are going to do great things when we take over the White House next year."

As they continue on a four-day tour, Mr Kerry and Mr Edwards will encounter people much more difficult to persuade than those here. But yesterday in Cleveland, before the rain came down, they at least made a start.

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