BOSTON — A tough-talking Sen. John Edwards made it clear Democrats will not cede any ground on the issues of terrorism or national defense as the party’s vice presidential candidate delivered the keynote speech Wednesday to the Democratic National Convention.
Democrats also formally voted to make Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., their presidential nominee.
Kerry has proven throughout his life that he has the courage and decisiveness to make the tough decisions that will keep America safe, Edwards said in a speech that was long on national security issues.
The most powerful statement Edwards made was an unambiguous declaration that those responsible for the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, would find no safe haven if Kerry is elected president.
“We will do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to make sure this never happens again, not to our America,” said Edwards, D-N.C. “We will always use our military might to keep the American people safe. And we, John and I, will have one clear, unmistakable message for al-Qaida and these terrorists. You cannot run. You cannot hide. We will destroy you.”
That sharp warning drew loud and sustained applause from the delegates, peaking their enthusiasm to its highest level since former President Bill Clinton spoke Monday.
Arizona delegate Daniel Ortega said Edwards’ speech hit the right tone, focusing on issues that are critical to all Americans and not just those in the Democratic Party.
“He seemed very genuine. He seemed very honest. He seemed very grounded,” Ortega said. “It wasn’t about being Republican. It wasn’t about being Democrat. It was about reaching out to the masses. It’s the values that Americans cherish. The kind of speech you heard tonight is what we have always believed, which are true American values.”
Edwards said that his own experience on the Senate Intelligence Committee has shown him that more work needs to be done to protect the homeland. If Kerry is elected, he will improve security at freight ports and chemical plants, do more to support police and firefighters, and work to secure weapons of mass destruction so they don’t fall into the hands of terrorists, Edwards said.
Edwards also paid homage to Americans serving in the military, walking a fine line between honoring those who have gone to battle in Iraq while remaining critical of Republican President Bush’s decision to go to war.
Many Americans have died or been debilitated in a war that would have been better fought with greater backing from allies, Edwards said. The president’s decision also has stretched American forces thin and has brought the United States disfavor with longtime allies around the world, Edwards said.
“The stars and stripes wave for them,” Edwards said of those serving in the military. “The word hero was made for them. And they deserve a president who understands this on the most personal level, what they’ve gone through, what they’ve given and what they’ve given up for their country.”
Throughout the convention, Democrats have focused on assuring Americans they will be strong on national defense and tough on terrorism. Most national polls show Bush is more trusted than Kerry to keep the United States safe from terrorist attacks. Republicans have tried to portray Kerry as soft on defense, saying in ads that he has a long history of voting to cut funding for intelligence and the military.
Edwards, like many other speakers before him, recounted Kerry’s own heroism in Vietnam, where he was wounded three times as a Navy swift boat commander.
Kerry’s Vietnam service has been a constant theme during the convention.
What promises to be one of the emotional high points tonight will be a speech by James Rassman, a former Green Beret whose life Kerry saved in Vietnam.
Through all of the ceremony of the four-day convention, Wednesday was the night when the most important official business was conducted. The delegates voted to nominate Kerry for president, which for months has been a foregone conclusion. Edwards will be formally nominated tonight. Among the three people who will make the nomination will be Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.