ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) says his selection of John Edwards (search) as his running mate seems to have injected energy into the campaign. Still, he recognizes the dangers of being swept up by the excitement of the moment and growing complacent.
"We're going to campaign intensely. There's not going to be any letup, and I'm very confident that the enthusiasm we are seeing is real," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Edwards, interviewed alongside Kerry, stopped short of saying he could help win the South for Democrats. The North Carolina senator had made that claim when he ran against Kerry for the nomination.
"I think we will be very competitive in the South, particularly in those states in which national Democrats need to be competitive to be successful," Edwards said.
Kerry and Edwards were ending four days of joint campaigning with a Saturday rally in Edwards' hometown, Raleigh, N.C.
Kerry was heading home to Boston afterward for a classified briefing from the Bush administration on the latest terror threats. Edwards begins a week of solo campaigning on Wednesday with stops in Iowa, Illinois, Florida, California, Louisiana and Texas.
"This is a national campaign, and I intend to campaign on behalf of the ticket all over America — in the Midwest, in the Southwest, in the South," Edwards said.
The Democratic senators conducted interviews with the AP and other news organizations as they wrapped up a joint tour that included campaign stops in New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and West Virginia.
As they flew on Kerry's campaign plane — Edwards is getting his own on Sunday — the men appeared to enjoy each other's company. In fact, there has been so much hugging and grabbing over the past few days that the team became the target of comedians on late-night television.
"We're a great couple," Kerry joked.
Edwards had been the final major challenger in the Massachusetts senator's path to the nomination.
Asked if Edwards' enthusiasm and youthful charm would affect the Kerry campaign style, the candidate said, "He's a wonderful addition to the campaign. But my campaign has been growing. We've been drawing record amounts of money, over $100 million. I think the campaign has enormous energy.
"And it's not because of me, and it won't be because of John, but because both of us reflect the desire of most Americans to move our country to a stronger place, to restore our respect in the world, to put people back to work and make life fair," Kerry said.
Does Kerry worry that Edwards, a trial lawyer with a celebrated rhetorical flair, might upstage him at the party's convention and on campaign platforms?
"I hope he does; that's terrific. That means I really picked him better than I thought," Kerry said.
Edwards joined in: "How in the world do you upstage — I might have missed something, but I think he won the nomination."
"And there's a reason he won the nomination," Edwards said. "The truth is that we're a great team; we're a great partnership; we're having fun."
Kerry dismissed criticism from Republicans about a Democratic fund-raising concert Thursday in New York at which entertainers used such characterizations as "liar" and "cheap thug" to castigate Bush.
The GOP criticized Kerry and Edwards, the guests of honor, for not denouncing the attacks.
"We speak for ourselves. The folks who entertain have their own views, and they don't speak for us and they didn't speak for us," Kerry said.
"And some of them, in our judgment, went over a line that neither of us would choose to go over. But we understand their anger. We understand their frustration," Kerry said.
The candidates shrugged off suggestions their wealth — both are multimillionaires — would complicate their efforts to speak for the average citizen.
"If that were the standard, we would have missed out on two great presidents of modern times, Franklin Roosevelt (search) and John F. Kennedy," Kerry said.
"You know, the measurement of our values and the measurement of where we're heading for America is not the size of the bank account; it's what you do with your life and what you fight for every single day," Kerry said.
Added Edwards: "Nobody can doubt what our priorities are, what our values are."
On the issues, Kerry said Iraq is the most troubling foreign matter of the campaign, and the situation there is putting enormous burdens on the U.S. military.
"Nobody knows what we're going to inherit in Iraq," Kerry said.
"But I can tell you this: both John and I are committed to guarantee that we don't have a failed state in Iraq which presents a danger to the United States," Kerry said.
"We will do more effective diplomacy and bring other countries to the table which this administration has failed to do," he said.
During their primary campaign, Edwards and Kerry disagreed most strongly on trade. Edwards, whose home state North Carolina's textile industry has been battered by low-cost foreign imports, took a harsher, more protectionist stance.
Kerry voted for a string of free-trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (search), that Edwards opposed or criticized.
In the interview, both denied their differences over trade had ever been that great.
Kerry voiced opposition to several pending trade agreements in their present forms. He criticized provisions in a pending pact with Australia that he said would hurt U.S. dairy farmers.
Kerry also said that without more protections for workers and the environment, he could not go along with Bush's proposals for free-trade zones in the Western Hemisphere and along the Pacific Rim.