John Edwards (search), whose telegenic looks and sunny optimism made him a big hit with primary voters, rallied Americans behind the Democratic ticket Wednesday night, saying all people should have "those same opportunities I had growing up."
The vice presidential candidate, in an acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention (search), recalled his humble roots in small Southern textile mill towns and as the first member of his family to go to college.
"I worked my way through and I have had opportunities way beyond what I could have ever imagined," said Edwards, 51, who became a multimillionaire trail lawyer before being elected to the Senate in 1998.
Delegated cheered the newly nominated vice presidential candidate with a sea of red and white banners and chants of "Edwards! Edwards!"
Reprising a popular theme from his unsuccessful presidential bid earlier this year, Edwards told the convention that, "the truth is, we still live in two Americas," one for the rich and one for everybody else.
"It doesn't have to be that way," he said in a speech that was upbeat and populist. "We can build one America."
Edwards, 51, saw his nationally televised prime-time acceptance speech as an opportunity to introduce himself and presidential candidate John Kerry to millions of Americans, many of whom don't know much about either Democrat.
Edwards, who joined the ticket three weeks ago, called Kerry "Decisive. Strong. Aren't those the traits you want in a commander in chief?"
Democrats made the event a family affair. His parents, Wallace and Bobby Edwards, were there. He was introduced by his wife, Elizabeth, who in turn was introduced by daughter Cate, 22. Their two younger children -- Emma Claire, 6, and Jack, 4 -- were on hand too.
Both Kerry and her husband have "the right stuff," the senator's wife said.
"We deserve leaders who allow their faith and moral core, our faiths and moral core, to draw us closer together, not drive us farther apart," she said. "We deserve leaders who believe in each of us."
Following in the steps of a parade of speakers before him, Edwards pointed to Kerry's valorous service in the Vietnam War (search) more than three decades ago as evidence of the candidate's fitness to serve in the White House.
Democratic strategists see Edwards as offering strength in areas where Kerry is deemed to be weak -- support among rural and small-down voters, especially in the South, and his upbeat personality and common touch.
"The heart of this campaign -- your campaign -- is to make sure that everyone has those same opportunities that I had growing up, no matter where you live, who your family is, or what the color of your skin is. This is the America we believe in," he said.
True to his primary message, Edwards fashioned an upbeat speech Wednesday night -- he made no mention of President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney in his address.
But he did slip in some pointed criticism of the GOP campaign.
"We've seen relentless negative attacks against John...They are doing all they can to take this campaign for the highest office in the land down the lowest possible road."
"This is where you come in. Between now and November -- you, the American people -- you can reject the tired, old, hateful, negative, politics of the past. And instead you can embrace the politics of hope, the politics of what's possible because this is America, where everything is possible."
Edwards was Kerry's last major Democratic challenger to fold his campaign. He won only one primary -- South Carolina, where he was born -- but finished a strong second in many other states.
"We choose hope over despair, possibilities over problems, optimism over cynicism," Edwards said. "What John Kerry and I believe is that you should never look down on anybody, that we should lift people up. We don't believe in tearing people apart. We believe in bringing people together. What we believe -- what I believe -- is that the family you're born into and the color of your skin in our America should never control your destiny. "
Edwards outlined Kerry's tax, health care and education policies before promising a Democratic ticket that will protect America. With the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaching, he said, "We will do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to make sure that never happens again, not in our America."
Edwards said he wrote most of the speech himself in longhand on yellow legal pad, going through some 30 drafts, and he practiced it repeatedly.
Edwards' speaking style -- direct, without notes and with short sentences and simple words -- was honed over years as a plaintiffs' trial lawyer, helping him win one multimillion-dollar verdict after another.