BOSTON (AP) - John Kerry lays claim to the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night, his moment to have a conversation with Americans and convince them he can protect them from terrorism and improve their lives better than President Bush.
In a curtain raiser, running mate John Edwards praised Kerry as a born leader tested in Vietnam and now ready to protect the country in the age of terrorism.
"He wants to serve you - your cause is his cause," Edwards said Wednesday night as a parade of Democrats tried to focus voters' attention on Kerry's qualifications to be commander in chief.'
Edwards was out early Thursday trying to swell the momentum for Kerry's speech He had breakfast with delegates from Wyoming, Alabama and his home state of North Carolina, thanking them for their chants of support the night before.
"Do exactly the same thing for John Kerry," he urged. "The truth is, we can't do this without you. We need you out there working, organizing, getting people to the polls."
Kerry did the same with his arrival Wednesday, taking a slow ferry across Boston Harbor with crewmates on the swiftboat that he commanded in the Mekong Delta as a young Navy officer in a war he later condemned.
"I'm looking forward to my opportunity ... to share with you and all of America a vision for how we're going to make this country stronger at home and respected in the world," he said of the speech he delivers Thursday night.
The Massachusetts senator watched from his Beacon Hill home as Democrats formally nominated him for the presidency in a boisterous, late-night roll call Wednesday. Ohio put him over the top, just as he hopes it will on Nov. 2.
On the last day of the Democrats' convention, police anticipated a surge in street demonstrations. The Boston-area Bl(A)ck Tea Society, an ad hoc group of self-described anarchists and anti-authority activists formed a year ago to stage protests, called for "decentralized direct action" but without violence.
Polls now show a tight race between Kerry and Bush. In a sign of the tough fight to come, the president taped new TV commercials, with his Texas ranch as the backdrop, in preparation for the resumption of a campaign ad war next month. The Democratic Party also is preparing $6 million in ads for launch this weekend, pitching the Kerry-Edwards ticket in more than a dozen battleground states.
Hours after the final gavel at the convention, Kerry will begin hitting every key state on a two-week cross country trip by train, bus and boat.
Flanked by his family, Edwards, whose Southern charm and oratorical skills are viewed as strengthening Kerry's weaknesses, criticized negative attacks by Republicans trying to portray Kerry as a waffling Massachusetts liberal who has failed to support U.S. soldiers in a time of war.
The North Carolina senator urged voters to "reject the tired, old, hateful, negative politics of the past" and "embrace the politics of hope" instead.
Like dozens of other speakers at the convention, Edwards' script stressed the overriding national security theme. He recalled Kerry's service in Vietnam a generation ago, saying he ordered his swiftboat turned around despite enemy fire and plucked a fellow American from the river to safety.
"Decisive. Strong. Is that not what we need in a commander in chief?" Edwards asked.
Republicans, who have kept a presence in Boston to answer the Democrats' charges, quickly noted that Kerry had questioned Edwards' experience before choosing him as a running mate.
And in Utah, Vice President Dick Cheney criticized the Democratic ticket for voting against a bill to pay for the Iraq war.
"Terrorist acts are not caused by the use of strength. They are invited by the perception of weakness," Cheney said at a congressional fund-raiser. "President Bush will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of the United States of America."
When Kerry, 60, takes the podium to deliver the closing speech of a unified party convention, he'll aim to tell Americans who he is, what he seeks to do and why he should be president. He is said to be planning to break through his New England reserve to reveal more of himself.
Others will lay some of the groundwork.
Senate colleagues and two of his presidential rivals will testify to his promise of an America that is stronger and more secure. Daughters Alexandra and Vanessa will talk about the father they know. Also speaking is Jim Rassmann, an Army Special Forces lieutenant whose life Kerry saved in Vietnam.
Delegates gathered in the FleetCenter, the convention site, also will see a short biographical film portraying Kerry as a decorated Vietnam War hero and devoted husband and father - not as the wealthy, 20-year Senate veteran with a patrician's airs some see him as.
Edwards will be formally nominated as vice president earlier Thursday. At the end of Kerry's formal nominating roll call Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee secretary's office tallied 4,255 votes for Kerry and 37 votes for Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
On the Net:
Kerry-Edwards campaign: http://www.johnkerry.com
Bush-Cheney campaign: http://www.georgewbush.com
Democratic National Convention: http://www.dems2004.org