FOX CHAPEL, Pa. -- The Democratic ticket complete, John Kerry and John Edwards headed out on the campaign trail today for the first time as running mates, with two of the largest prizes among the battleground states topping their agenda.
The two senators, their wives and children at their sides, appeared on the Kerry family's suburban Pittsburgh estate for family photographs, one day after Kerry chose Edwards as the Democratic vice presidential candidate.
"We come to this with a deep, deep belief that America can do better," Kerry said. "Today we're embarking on a new journey together, not for us but for our country - a journey to make our country all it can be."
Kerry and Edwards held their wives' hands, chatted and laughed as they walked across a field at the estate. Seven of the eight children between them followed.
"John Edwards and his family represent a life of fighting to provide hope and opportunity for people," Kerry said, calling Edwards as a man with "passion, conviction and strength."
Edwards returned the glowing critique, saying Kerry showed "strength and courage and determination" during the Democratic primary. "And the truth is, it's the same strength, courage, backbone and leadership that he showed his whole life," he said.
The two sought to dispel any notion of ill will from the primary campaign by embracing and laughing together like old friends. Edwards, a constant grin on his face, said he had assumed when Kerry called him on Tuesday morning that it was another reporter calling. "I was very pleased to have gotten the news," he said.
"This is a great privilege for me - a great opportunity to serve my country, which I love so dearly," Edwards said.
The two families were headed to Ohio and Florida to kick off four days of campaigning that will end Saturday with a rally in Edwards' home state of North Carolina.
Kerry said the two families spent last night talking about the announcement and having fun getting to know each other better. He joked that the ticket was announcing a new campaign manager.
"Jack Edwards is taking over everything," Kerry quipped, referring to Edwards' 4-year-old son. "He does a wild cannonball."
Amid questions about the depth of Edwards' experience after less than six years in the Senate, the Kerry campaign on Wednesday defended the selection by pointing to his service on the Senate Intelligence Committee and his participation in an inquiry into the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"He brings a great deal to the table and actually more than the current president did when he was elected in 2000," Mary Beth Cahill, the Kerry-Edwards campaign manager, told "Good Morning America" on ABC.
Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., said Kerry himself had questioned whether Edwards had the experience to be president when they were rivals for the presidential nomination.
"I think this may be a big flip-flop on the part of the No. 1 person on the ticket," Dole said on NBC's "Today."
On Capitol Hill, House Republican leaders dismissed Edwards as another liberal Democrat and doubted he would gain the party serious support in Southern states.
"It's not a very balanced ticket," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., told reporters. "Senator Kerry is the No. 1 liberal in the Senate and Senator Edwards is the No. 4 liberal in the Senate."
"There has been a trend over the years that has rejected those liberals that come home and talk conservative," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. "That's why Republicans are the overwhelming majority party all across the South."
Although Hastert said Edwards "didn't even carry own state against Kerry," Edwards won both his native South Carolina during the competitive phase of the primary race and then North Carolina, which gave Edwards a victory even after he had dropped from the race.
The Bush-Cheney campaign was preparing an ad suggesting that Edwards was second choice behind Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. However, the Kerry campaign said there had been no offer for McCain to reject.
"There was no serious dialogue in the end, no offer in the end," Jim Johnson, who ran the selection process for Kerry, told "The Early Show" on CBS.