Teresa Heinz Kerry (search) presented her husband to the world Tuesday as a defender of freedom, environmental savior, and all-American patriot who would not "mistake stubbornness for strength" as the nation's next commander in chief.

"John is a fighter," Heinz Kerry said of her husband, a Vietnam War (search) combat veteran, in remarks prepared for the second night of the Democratic National Convention. "He earned his medals the old-fashioned way — by putting his life on the line for his country."

Kerry is in a closely contested race against President Bush, who is favored by voters on the question of who would best protect the nation against terrorism. Kerry's strategists hope to use the war in Iraq to cast Bush as a reckless, intransigent commander in chief.

"For him, the names of too many friends inscribed in the cold stone of the Vietnam Memorial testify to the awful toll exacted by leaders who mistake stubbornness for strength," said Heinz Kerry, who married the nominee-to-be in 1995. "In America, the true patriots are those who dare speak truth to power."

Heinz Kerry said her husband is tested by war, but "knows the importance of getting it right." A Navy officer, Kerry was awarded Silver Star, Bronze Star with Combat "V" and three Purple Hearts for Vietnam War service.

Heinz Kerry made the biggest speech of her life at a time when she is feeling the renewed glare of the campaign spotlight, after telling a Pennsylvania reporter to "shove it" during a delegation party Sunday.

"By now I hope it will come as no surprise to anyone that I have something to say," she said. "And tonight, as I have done throughout this campaign, I would like to speak to you from my heart."

She stayed in safe waters Tuesday, focusing on her themes of early childhood education, affordable health care, and the environment, all of which she has helped support through her work as chairwoman of the Howard Heinz Endowment (search) and the Heinz Family Philanthropies (search).

As she listed the reasons John Kerry should be the next president, she quoted from Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural, when the Civil War leader called on "the better angels of our nature."

"Today, the better angels of our nature are just waiting to be summoned," she said. "We only require a leader who is willing to call on them ... I think I've found just the guy. I'm married to him."

A first-generation American who grew up in Mozambique, Heinz Kerry spoke of her personal journey, which brought her to university in apartheid South African and — ultimately — into the heart of one of the United States' wealthiest families.

"I have a very personal feeling about how special America is, and I know how precious freedom is," said Heinz Kerry, who joined anti-apartheid marches. "It is a sacred gift, sanctified by those who have lived it and those who have died defending it."

Heinz Kerry began her speech by greeting the crowd in the five languages she can speak fluently: Spanish, French and Italian, in addition to English and her native Portuguese, which still flavors her speech.

The 65-year-old heiress was introduced by Chris Heinz (search), 31, the youngest of her three sons with GOP Sen. John Heinz III, who died in a 1991 plane crash.

"Thank you, Christopher," his mother said. "Your father would be proud of you and your brothers.

Heinz Kerry has been called a "loose cannon" on the campaign trail, often speaking on issues that more typical political wives would avoid: Botox, prenuptial agreements, the vice presidential candidate's good looks.

Conventional wisdom varies on whether voters will find Heinz Kerry's candor refreshing or unseemly.

A recent poll found those voters evenly divided about her, if they had any opinion at all. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found her favorable rating at 27 percent and unfavorable at 26 percent. Nearly half of those polled had no opinion at all.