RALEIGH, N.C. – As Sens. John Edwards (search) and John Kerry (search) kicked off their campaign as running mates Wednesday, President Bush stopped in Edwards' home state of North Carolina, vowing to take the South in the November elections.
Bush said he wasn't worried that Edwards would help Kerry win the Southern states, which are the foundation of the president's political support.
"When they go to the polls to vote for president, they'll understand the senator from Massachusetts doesn't share their values," Bush said. "I'm going to carry the South because the people understand that we share values."
He also chided Edwards, a freshman senator, for his lack of experience compared to the current vice president when a reporter asked, "How does he stack up against Dick Cheney?"
"Dick Cheney can be president," Bush responded. "Next?"
The president was helping the Republican Party raise $2.35 million at a luncheon fund-raiser in Raleigh and visited Edwards' hometown to criticize the senator's role in holding up judicial appointments, saying that's resulting in backlogs of unresolved cases that languish for years.
Kerry struck back hours later at a rally in Dayton, Ohio.
"He doesn't have a record to run on, he's just got a record to run away from, and he's attacking everyone," Kerry said of Bush. He said Edwards has "more experience and better judgment than George Bush when he became president." Bush was in his second term as Texas governor.
Meanwhile, Kerry's campaign said Bush was "hitting the panic button." "The fact that the president of the United States is personally taking swipes at the Kerry-Edwards ticket a mere day after it was announced speaks volumes," the campaign said in a statement.
"It's just disappointing that the president of the United States would stoop to this kind of political bickering."
Earlier, Edwards and Kerry attended a rally in Cleveland, one day after Kerry announced his choice for vice president. Ohio is a major battleground state.
Kerry welcomed "a different kind of electricity called John Edwards," characterizing the first-term North Carolina senator as a man with "passion, conviction and strength."
"He represents the best of the hope of our country, the best of opportunity," Kerry said.
Edwards then praised Kerry for showing "strength and courage and determination" during the Democratic primary.
"The real reason that John Kerry and I are here together is that we share the same values," Edwards said with his usual campaign fervor.
"We believe that tomorrow is going to be better than today. We believe that if we put out hearts and minds behind it, that anything is possible and between now and November, an important thing is gonna happen in this country — the American people are gonna reject the tired, old, hateful politics of the past ... and when he [Kerry] is president, tomorrow will once again be better than today."
The Kerry-Edwards campaign tour will stop in Florida before it ends in Edwards' home state of North Carolina on Saturday.
The Kerry-Edwards campaign also unveiled a new set of national television ads Wednesday; for the first time, the campaign will run ads in Edwards' home state of North Carolina.
The seven 30-second spots introduce voters to the Kerry-Edwards ticket and their vision for a "stronger America," including good paying jobs, affordable health care, energy independence, a strong military and a respected America that leads strong alliances around the world, according to the campaign.
'This Is the Beginning'
Earlier Wednesday morning, Kerry and Edwards made their first appearance together at Kerry's wife's compound in Pittsburgh, Pa.
"Today, we're embarking on a new journey together, not for us, but for our country," Kerry said with Edwards at his side and their families surrounding them on the farm. "This is the beginning of our effort to talk to America and have a conversation.
"Our vision is a vision that puts this country back to work and restores confidence," he continued. "Our vision is one that makes our country stronger … our vision will make America safer in every respect."
The appearance was one that resembled a love-fest, with Kerry's first comments being that he was going to make Edwards' 4-year-old son, Jack, their new campaign manager, because "he does a wild cannonball."
"This is the kind of man we grew up looking up to, respecting, somebody who believed in faith and family and responsibility," Edwards said. "For so many Americans, this campaign is about the future and it's about restoring hope. People are desperate to believe again that people will be better off tomorrow than they are today … that's what John Kerry represents — he represents hope."
Kerry said he's proud of his choice of wingman.
"This man is ready for the job. He's ready to lead America. He's a man of compassion, of conviction, of strength," Kerry said of the junior senator from North Carolina.
The wives of the two White House hopefuls also took the microphone and echoed their husbands' words of hope and the need to give America something to look forward to.
Kerry's wife, Heinz ketchup heiress Teresa Heinz Kerry (search), said America is "full of places" like the Ohio River Valley and Pittsburgh — places where people are losing jobs but trying hard to turn their lives around.
"It's the same story and it's a very nice, personally, point of departure, to start this voyage together for America from a place that has been hurt, by a place that has been resilient and hopeful …and that's what we're going to do — to bring back hope," Heinz Kerry said.
Elizabeth Edwards, saying she's "completely confident with this race," praised Kerry and his wife for spending their lives working to improve "the lives of people around them."
'Not a Balanced Ticket'
House GOP leaders on Wednesday slammed Kerry's pick, zeroing on the team's liberal ratings, Edwards' lack of primary support in the South and his career as a trial lawyer.
This is "not a balanced ticket," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, adding that, "you have to look at what they stand for ... Kerry is the No. 1 liberal in the Senate and Edwards is No. 4 ... not a balanced ticket."
Hastert also called Edwards an "interesting choice ... another pretty face."
Democrats predicted Edwards will help the ticket in rural America. Democrats have lost enormous ground in the exurban and rural precincts, largely because of social issues such as abortion and gun control.
Edwards may also put his traditionally GOP state — and its 15 electoral votes — in play, along with other Southern venues, Democrats said.
But House Majority Leader Tom Delay said of the South, there's a "trend of rejecting liberals who come here and talk conservative."
"The South is in play ... Edwards didn't even carry his own state in the primary," Hastert added. Edwards only won South Carolina in the Democratic primaries when he was running for president.
Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., said a Kerry/Edwards ticket is a "dream team for the trial bar."
Despite the criticisms, Kerry assured supporters Tuesday, "John Edwards is ready for this job. He is ready for this job."
Fox News' Liza Porteus, Molly Hooper and The Associated Press contributed to this report.