DES MOINES, Iowa – Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards (search) assailed President Bush for lacking the courage of British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search), who on Wednesday took full responsibility for the intelligence failures that led both nations into war in Iraq.
Embarking on his first solo campaign as John Kerry's (search) running mate, Edwards kicked it off in Iowa, the state that salvaged his political aspirations with a strong second-place finish in the presidential caucuses seven months ago.
"I love Iowa. I'm so happy to be back here," Edwards told about a thousand cheering Kerry-Edwards supporters on the grounds of the state capitol. "The time I spent in Iowa was so important to where I am today."
Domestic issues would seem a natural topic for a Democratic candidate campaigning in the heartland, but the campaign decided that Edwards would focus on national security and lead the Democratic voices comparing Bush to Blair.
Republicans have criticized the first-term North Carolina senator's amount of experience, seeking to raise doubts about his ability to assume the presidency in a post-9/11 era. Democrats are determined to counter any impression that Edwards is ill-prepared for the top job.
In his speech, Edwards called on Bush to step forward, as Blair had done in London, and take personal responsibility for the intelligence failures that resulted in war.
A report of a British official inquiry concluded that Iraq had no stockpiles of useable chemical or biological weapons before the war and that British intelligence relied in part on "seriously flawed" or "unreliable" sources.
"Tony Blair didn't run from the report, he didn't try to not acknowledge it," Edwards said. "Instead, what Tony Blair said was 'I take full responsibility for the mistakes ..."
"What we need in the White House is somebody who has the strength and courage and leadership to take full responsibility and be accountable — not only for what's good but for what's bad," Edwards said. "That's what John Kerry will be."
The senator said President John F. Kennedy had taken full responsibility for the failed CIA-led invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs in the early 1960s — and Bush should do the same for intelligence failures on Iraq.
Also comparing Bush to Blair was Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who said, "in stark contrast to this administration, today we saw Prime Minister Tony Blair take responsibility ... We know where the buck stops in London. We don't know where the buck stops in Washington."
Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, said Blair was actually echoing Bush in telling the House of Commons that he didn't regret pursuing Saddam Hussein — despite the intelligence failings — and that the world was a "better and safer place" place.
"It's amusing to watch the contortions the Kerry campaign will go through to find a line of political attack with regard to the war on terror," Schmidt said.
After a four-day debut campaign swing with Kerry last week, Edwards chose to return to the state that gave him an important boost last January when he came from the back of the pack to finish a surprising second.
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who also was mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate, introduced Edwards to the crowd. "In November, Iowa will go for Kerry-Edwards, do you agree?" Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack said, getting a thunderous roar of approval from the audience.
Edwards was traveling later in the day to a fund-raiser in Chicago. He also has stops planned in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, California and his home state of North Carolina on a six-day campaign trip.
Peter Scher, Edwards' campaign manager, said the intention, at least initially, was to show Edwards' appeal in a number of regions of the country, not just the South. Scher said Edwards would spend a lot of time campaigning in Midwestern battleground states.
During his primary campaign, Edwards, with common-touch rhetoric and a sunny populism, drew responsive audiences, especially among rural and small-town voters.
Edwards began the day in Washington at a morning meeting with Democratic House members. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Edwards delivered "a message of hope and optimism."
She also said "he made his commitment to do anything in his power to help the Democrats take back the House."