BOSTON — BOSTON - John Kerry became the official Democratic presidential nominee last night, as his running mate John Edwards praised him as "decisive," "strong" leader who "represents real American values."
Former senator and astronaut John Glenn, representing the pivotal swing state of Ohio, cast its 159 votes for Kerry, putting him over the top.
On the eve of Kerry's pivotal acceptance speech, which will introduce him to the nation, Edwards joined a parade of Democrats who said Kerry is committed to strengthening the military and fighting terrorism.
They were aiming to convince voters that Kerry is better positioned than President Bush to deal with national security issues, which are seen as Bush's strongest selling point.
"When a man volunteers to serve his country, the man volunteers and puts his life on the line for others, that's a man who represents real American values," Edwards said, recounting Kerry's record as a decorated Vietnam War hero.
He was repeatedly interrupted by applause, as delegates waved American flags and red, rectangular Edwards signs and chanted his name.
Edwards, a first-term North Carolina senator and former trial lawyer whom Republicans have called too inexperienced to be vice president, used uncharacteristically sharp language to assert that he and Kerry would be tough on terrorism.
"We - John and I - we will have one clear, unmistakable message for al-Qaida and these terrorists," he said. "You cannot run. You cannot hide. We will destroy you."
An enthsiastic crowd cheered to the strains of John Mellencamp's "Small Town" - the down-home campaign anthem Edwards used during his own run for the Democratic nomination - as the convention approached its climax.
Meet the candidate
That high point will come tonight, when Kerry is to accept his party's nomination in a speech that will frame his candidacy for many Americans, the vast majority of whom polls show still do not know much about the four-term Massachusetts senator.
The hip-hop band Black-Eyed Peas excited the crowd last night with its hit "Let's Get it Started," before delegates cast their official votes during a state-by-state roll call to nominate Kerry for president.
In the final tally, Kerry received 4,254 delegate votes and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio received 43.
Cameron Kerry cast Massachusetts' 121 votes for his brother.
The nominee arrived in Boston with fanfare yesterday, in a homecoming designed to showcase his experience as a decorated war hero who commanded a Swift boat in Vietnam.
Boarding a ferry from the airport where his campaign plane landed, Kerry crossed Boston Harbor with 12 of his original crewmates - the "band of brothers," as he calls them, who have mobilized to power his campaign.
"We are taking this fight to the country, and we are going to win back our democracy and our future," Kerry said upon arrival at the Charlestown Navy Yard.
Context of history
Kerry sought to frame his candidacy in a broader context of American history, as he had throughout his weeklong trek to Boston.
Moments after crossing the body of water where colonists dumped 45 tons of tea to protest the British tea monopoly, he said, "We're going to write the great next chapter of history in this country together."
Later, at Boston's FleetCenter, Edwards delivered a speech that melded the populist themes of his own bid for the Democratic nomination with specific policy proposals on health care, education and taxes.
He called Kerry "a man who knows the difference between what is right and what is wrong. He wants to serve you - your cause is his cause."
Edwards sounded the upbeat tone that marked his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, while seeking to paint Republicans as a party of stale campaign tactics that dwell on the past.
"The Republicans are doing all they can to take this campaign for the highest office in the land down the lowest possible road," Edwards said. "You can reject this 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 returned to his trademark concept of "two Americas" - one for the privileged and one for everybody else - bringing the audience to its feet at the close of his speech by saying that under a Kerry-Edwards administration, "hope is on the way" for people living in hardship.
The Kerry campaign hopes that Edwards can help draw support among moderates and rural voters - two groups that are seen as pivotal swing constituencies.
Kerry's pollsters circulated a memo yesterday emphasizing national polls that show that voters have a good impression of Edwards and surveys that have shown that Vice President Dick Cheney is unpopular.
"John Edwards is a formidable asset to the Democratic ticket, while Cheney is a drag on the Republican ticket," the memo concluded.
Kerry's campaign strategists believe that his war record will help draw support for him in swing areas such as Edwards' native South.
But national polls have shown that voters trust Bush more to protect them from terrorism and defend the nation, a trend Kerry's strategists know they must reverse if they hope to defeat the president in November.
So Democrats last night emphasized Kerry's Vietnam experience, portraying him as a leader who is just as forceful as Bush on foreign policy and defense matters, but one whose experience in combat makes him more trustworthy than the president, who did not serve in the conflict.
Kerry "put his life on the line for our country," Edwards said. "He knows that when authority is given to the president, much is expected in return. That's why we will strengthen and modernize our military."
The campaign touted the endorsement of Kerry by 12 retired generals and admirals, hoping to enhance the candidate's national security credentials in advance of his big speech.
"I stand before you this evening because I believe that no one will be more resolute in defending America nor in pursuing terrorists than John Kerry," said Gen. John Shalikashvili, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "And that no one will be more skilled in bringing allies back to our side."
The Rev. Al Sharpton, whose campaign made barely a splash in the Democratic primary, drew some of the loudest cheers as he spoke directly to Bush, accusing the president of weakening civil rights and squandering global good will toward the United States after Sept. 11.
Not for sale
Sharpton rejected Bush's assertion in a speech last week that African-American voters would have more leverage if they voted for Republicans as well as Democrats.
"In all due respect, Mr. President," he said, "read my lips: Our vote is not for sale."
In an evening that stuck mostly to positive talk of Kerry's record and qualifications to sit in the Oval Office, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson had some of the harshest language for Bush.
"The wars of mass deception are more apparent than weapons of mass destruction. It is a moral disgrace. ... America deserves better," Jackson said.
"Bring the troops home. Send Bush to Texas. It's time to send John Kerry and John Edwards to the White House this November."