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John and Elizabeth Edwards, with their son, Jack, 4, and their daughters, Cate, 22, and Emma, 6, at the FleetCenter yesterday.
John and Elizabeth Edwards, with their son, Jack, 4, and their daughters, Cate, 22, and Emma, 6, at the FleetCenter yesterday. (Globe Staff)

Edwards promises 'hope'

Page 2 of 3 -- But it was Sharpton who brought the crowd to its feet with cheers and laughter when he derided Bush's recent attempt to influence African-American voters to consider the Republican Party, with a reference to the donkey that symbolizes the Democrats.

"It is true that Mr. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, after which there was a commitment to give 40 acres and a mule. That's where the argument, to this day, of reparations starts. We never got the 40 acres," Sharpton said. " We went all the way to Herbert Hoover, and we never got the 40 acres. We didn't get the mule. So we decided we'd ride this donkey as far as it would take us."

Polls indicate that most Americans have strong opinions about Bush. But Kerry is more enigmatic to them, even to many Democrats. The fight to define him between Republicans, who call him an unprincipled elitist, and Democrats, who extol his wisdom and experience, may be the deciding battle of the election.

And Edwards's primary role for the next four months will be to convince Americans of the latter, using the same persuasive skills he employed so successfully in two decades as a trial lawyer.

Last night's speech marked Edwards's first true turn on the national political stage, the latest highlight of a Horatio Alger tale that began in small North Carolina textile mill towns where he grew up, and which he hopes to conclude in the highest echelon of power.

Democrats attending the convention in anticipation of Edwards's speech overflowed the FleetCenter, causing fire officials to shut off access to the main floor. At the entryways, Boston fire and police officials argued with some delegates and members of the media who sought access.

"You mean the FleetCenter is too small?" asked an angry journalist, contending that the press section had empty seats. "No, the Democrats are too big," a firefighter shot back. "There are people on the floor who shouldn't be."

Scott Salman, a Boston Fire Department spokesman, said access to the main floor from upper floors was halted at 10:20 p.m. "If you left, you weren't allowed back in," Salman said. But members of Congress were permitted to pass freely, he added.

The man Edwards seeks to replace, Vice President Dick Cheney, took a pointed jab at Edwards during a speech in Utah yesterday, using self-deprecating humor to underscore his Democratic competitor's relative lack of experience: "They say Senator Edwards got picked because he's charming, good-looking, sexy. . . . How do you think I got the job?" As the crowd broke into laughter, Cheney added: "Always bothers me when people laugh at that line. I'm not sure why they do."

Later in the speech, taking aim at the opposition on both the domestic and international fronts, the vice president said Kerry has voted to raise taxes 350 times in his career, and noted that both Kerry and Edwards voted in support of the Iraq war but against an additional $87 billion for US troops there.   Continued...

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