NEW YORK – Democratic candidates John Kerry (search) and John Edwards (search), on the campaign trail together just three days, suggested Friday that President Bush was emphasizing values for political gain and criticized the Republican administration's investigation of former Enron executive Ken Lay (search).
"I understand that President Bush is going to be out today as he does every day talking about values," Edwards said. "Values is not a word on a piece of paper. Values is not part of a political slogan. Values are what's inside you."
Taking over, Kerry added, "Values are putting the full force of the Justice Department on day one in an effort not to take three years and a few months before the election before you bring Ken Lay to justice."
The former Enron Corp. chief executive officer, a friend and contributor to Bush and other Republicans in the past, was indicted Thursday after a 21/2-year investigation into the energy giant's collapse. He's accused of being at the helm of a conspiracy to deceive the public, shareholders, government regulators and others.
From 1989 to 2001 Lay and his wife donated $793,110 to Republicans and $86,470 to Democrats, according to the nonpartisan Center For Responsive Politics.
"I grew up in a small town in North Carolina. I know something about values," Edwards said. He praised "middle-class working Americans" who "are struggling to get by" to better themselves and provide for their families.
"They represent the values of America. Not Enron. Not Ken Lay, who it's now taken the Bush administration over three years to indict," Edwards said. "We need somebody in the White House who shares the values that most Americans believe in."
The Democratic ticket spoke at two morning fund-raisers that brought in a combined $2.2 million that will be divided between the Kerry-Edwards campaign and the Democratic National Committee. On Thursday night, the joint effort raised $7.5 million at a star-studded concert in New York.
Their comments followed two days of celebratory campaigning through Ohio and Florida meant to introduce the new Democratic ticket in key battleground states. Kerry and Edwards were headed to two more competitive states, West Virginia and New Mexico, before rounding out their first campaign swing together in Edwards' home state of North Carolina this weekend.
At the first of the two fund raisers, Kerry and Edwards promised a mostly female crowd of 1,500 donors that they would, as Edwards said, give women "the respect and dignity they're entitled to."
"He will stand up, fight for and protect every day he's in the White House a woman's right to choose," Edwards vowed.
Their wives and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., stood on stage next to them. Praising Teresa Heinz Kerry and Elizabeth Edwards as "strong, thoughtful, loving women," Kerry joked, "We came here for one reason today — to stand here as living proof that both of us married up!"