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A ‘Dream Ticket’ Talks of Economic Realities

Times Staff Writers

Sens. John F. Kerry and John Edwards set out on the presidential campaign trail Wednesday, casting themselves as a pair of can-do optimists who would stand up for Americans facing a middle-class economic squeeze.

Picking up where Edwards’ own White House bid left off, an exuberant Kerry embraced the smiling demeanor and some of the populist rhetoric of his running mate as the two men and their families made appearances in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, three battleground states.

“This is a dream ticket,” Kerry boasted in Dayton, where thousands of people crowded along the banks of the Miami River to see the new Democratic team. “We’ve got better ideas, a better vision for our country, a better sense of what’s happening to average people in America and how difficult life is, a better sense of the real priorities of our nation.”

“And,” he adding jokingly, “we’ve got better hair” -- a reference to the ribbing both candidates have fielded for their luxuriant manes.

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The two men’s campaign swing, which continues today with stops in Florida and New York City, is part of a minutely orchestrated effort to maximize publicity for Kerry in advance of the Democratic National Convention at the end of the month. Their emphasis on kitchen-table economics also spotlighted what has emerged as one of the Democrats’ central themes.

Part of Wednesday’s effort included an attempt to refute Republican charges that Edwards, who is completing a six-year term in the Senate, lacks the heft and experience to serve as vice president.

Any residual tensions from the two men’s competition during the Democratic primaries seemed to have evaporated. From the moment they stepped before a bank of more than 50 cameras Wednesday morning, emerging from the elegant Pittsburgh-area estate of Kerry’s wife, Teresa, Kerry and Edwards looked like a couple on a blind date that had gone unexpectedly well.

“I could not be more proud of the pick I have made,” the Massachusetts senator told reporters, implicitly addressing Republican criticism of Edwards by declaring him “ready to help lead America.”

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On a day given over to far more style than substance, the two men threw their arms around each other and waved to crowds in Cleveland, Dayton and St. Petersburg, Fla., sharing the same beaming expression.

Their wives heaped compliments on one another, and Kerry’s grown children fussed over Edwards’ 6-year-old daughter, Emma Claire, and 4-year-old son, Jack.

In their remarks, the two focused broadly on economic themes, with Kerry and Edwards trading riffs on the difficulties they said many Americans face trying to make ends meet, despite a growing economy.

“You claw and you work hard and you play by the rules and all the while the big folks, the big money, the big power, is able to walk away with the store at the expense of average people,” Kerry told the crowd in Dayton.

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The phrase “play by the rules” was frequently used in 1992 by Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who made the economic pressures faced by average Americans a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.

Kerry in recent weeks has increasingly echoed Clinton’s rhetoric. Then, as now, the economy was growing, but at a pace that failed to translate into widespread feelings of well-being.

Edwards spoke to those anxieties more forcefully than any other candidate in the Democratic primaries, with his mantra about two Americas divided by class, race, and economic opportunity. On Wednesday, he joined Kerry in giving voice to those concerns.

“You can’t save any money,” Edwards said at a stop in Cleveland. “It takes every dime you make just to pay your bills. So if something goes wrong, if somebody gets laid off, you have a child who gets sick, you go right off the cliff. John Kerry understands this. He has spent the last year and half in real America, listening to the problems that people face.”

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As their prescription, the two offered the solution that Kerry has proposed for months: rolling back the tax cuts benefiting Americans making more than $200,000 a year and using the revenue to expand the availability of college, healthcare and other programs.

Edwards, who finished second to Kerry in the Democratic primaries, seemed to slide easily into the subordinate role customarily expected of the No. 2 man on the ticket. Throughout the day he offered a series of testimonials to the senator from Massachusetts, though the two had never been particularly close as colleagues on Capitol Hill.

Although both are multimillionaires, Edwards suggested they are like-minded in their concern for those less well to do.

“The real reason that John Kerry and I are here together is that we share the same values,” he said in Cleveland, reminding audiences of his upbringing as the son of a millworker and the first in his family to attend college. “I’m talking about the values that I grew up with in that small town in North Carolina: faith, family, opportunity, responsibility.”

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Throughout the day, both men peppered their speeches with talk about “hope” and “optimism” to describe each other and the administration they would run.

Kerry seemed to relish having Edwards by his side. Aboard their campaign charter, the two men huddled over their speeches, swapping ideas and figuring out what each of them would say at their next stop. Having finally picked a running mate after four months of deliberations, Kerry told reporters he felt “even better” than he thought he would.

The initial public reaction to Edwards’ selection was generally positive. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed in a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll taken Wednesday night said the choice of Edwards was excellent or good. In 2000, just over half those surveyed said they felt that way about the selection of Republican Dick Cheney and Democrat Joe Lieberman.

Everywhere they went, Edwards and Kerry were greeted by overflow crowds, cheering, chanting and stomping their feet.

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“I think they were extraordinary together, very hopeful,” said Joan Danes, a bed-and-breakfast owner, one of thousands of people who turned out in rainy Cleveland to see the new Democratic ticket.

For all the talk of hard-pressed average Americans, however, imagery was at center stage Wednesday as the campaign worked to highlight the striking tableau the two men formed: the 60-year-old Kerry with his salt-and-pepper hair and craggy face, standing a few inches taller than his younger, well-tanned colleague.

Before setting out together Wednesday morning, the families had some private time Tuesday night, when they visited at Rosemont, Teresa Heinz Kerry’s 88-acre estate in Fox Chapel, Pa.

Kerry and Edwards took a long walk around the property, set in the lush green Allegheny hills, and later, over a two-hour dinner of salad, corn pudding and veal tenderloin, the families traded stories from the campaign trail and talked about the challenge of balancing their personal lives with politics.

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“We had an opportunity to really bond,” Elizabeth Edwards said.

Gold reported from Dayton, Barabak from San Francisco.


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