AP Political Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry on Tuesday selected former rival John Edwards to be his running mate, calling the rich former trial lawyer and rookie senator a man who showed “guts and determination and political skill” in his unsuccessful race against Kerry for the party’s nomination.

As Kerry announced his decision in Pittsburgh, a huge crowd of supporters burst into applause, waving handmade signs that mixed with professionally printed “Kerry-Edwards” placards kept under wraps until the last minute.

“I trust that met with your approval,” Kerry, a smile crossing his face, said at a rally. A banner unfurled behind him with the latest campaign message: “Kerry-Edwards. A stronger America.”

As he wrapped up his remarks – a vintage Kerry stump speech laced with a few descriptions of Edwards – Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” played, a reference to the first name the running mates share. Kerry later boarded a plane for a speech in Indianapolis, the aircraft sporting an Edwards’ logo that had been added overnight.

By selecting Edwards, 51, Kerry went with the smooth-talking Southern populist over more seasoned politicians in hopes of injecting vigor and small-town appeal to the Democratic presidential ticket. Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran whom critics call aloof, calculated that his ticket didn’t need foreign policy heft as much as a flash of pizazz.

“I was humbled by his offer,” Edwards said in a statement, “and thrilled to accept it.”

Edwards is a self-made multimillionaire who turned his up-from-the-bootstraps biography into a compelling story during his nomination fight against Kerry and several others.

During that campaign, Edwards did better than Kerry among Republicans and nearly as well among independents, according to exit polls conducted by The Associated Press. By comparison, among all voters in those primaries, Kerry beat Edwards 2-to-1. Edwards’ voters frequently said the top candidate quality in their choice was that “he has a positive message.”

President Bush’s allies at the Republican National Committee immediately labeled Edwards a “disingenuous, unaccomplished liberal” trial lawyer – even as Vice President Dick Cheney called to congratulate him. Spokeswoman Nicolle Devenish said Cheney congratulated Edwards and told his rival that he looked forward to the vice presidential debate and “a spirited campaign.”

Later, Bush used similar language to welcome Edwards to the race.

Kerry revealed his choice in an e-mail to supporters, saying he couldn’t wait to see Edwards go “toe-to-toe with Dick Cheney.”

Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Sen. Bob Graham of Florida emerged as finalists in a search that began four months ago with a list of about 25 candidate and a mandate to find a political soul mate who would be “ready at any minute” to assume the presidency.

Kerry called all three also-rans, and perhaps one more, shortly before the rally, an aide said. He also telephoned 2000 Democratic nominee Al Gore, who in turn talked to Edwards.

Kerry’s choice was a bow to internal pressure: Edwards was the most popular of the leading contenders for the job, according to an AP-Ipsos poll of registered voters taken last month, and party leaders had been urging Kerry to shed his initial resistance to the North Carolina senator, elected in 1998.

In his 15-minute call to the North Carolina senator, Kerry said, “Teresa and I would like to ask you and Elizabeth to join us on our ticket to take back our country.”

Edwards was at his home in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood when Kerry told the rally, “I have chosen a man who understands and defends the values of America, a man who has shown courage and conviction as a champion for middle-class Americans and for those struggling to reach the middle class, a man who has shown guts and determination and political skill in his own race for the presidency of the United States, a man whose life has prepared him for leadership.”

Bush’s re-election campaign rushed to the airwaves with a television ad featuring former Republican rival John McCain and titled “First Choice,” an effort to paint Kerry’s running mate as his second choice. McCain, the Arizona senator, had rejected Kerry’s overtures to be No. 2 on the Democratic ticket.

McCain says of Bush in the ad: “He has not wavered, he has not flinched from the hard choices, he was determined and remains determined to make this world a better, safer, freer place.” Kerry’s campaign rushed into production its own ad featuring the newly minted ticket.

The Bush-Cheney ad alludes to what Republicans hope will be a problem for Edwards – his lack of foreign policy experience and political seasoning. It is not a new argument for Kerry: During the Democratic nomination fight, Kerry groused to associates that Edwards had no right seeking the presidency after less than a single term in the Senate.

But aides said the Massachusetts senator steadily warmed to Edwards, first in the primary campaign, where he stood against Kerry until the end without going negative. After pulling out of the race, Edwards campaigned aggressively on Kerry’s behalf and urged his contributors, mostly trial lawyers, to donate to his former rival’s campaign.

Edwards’ advisers, meanwhile, waged a quiet campaign on the North Carolina senator’s behalf. Both Edwards and Gephardt had top aides who joined the Kerry campaign in recent weeks.

Edwards was at his home in Georgetown when Kerry called, readying his two young children for summer camp. Kerry called from his Pittsburgh home.

Obsessed with secrecy, Kerry kept his decision to himself until the last possible minute, giving Edwards no time to get to Pittsburgh. He met secretly with Edwards on Thursday – top aides for both men didn’t know about the session – and the search team headed by Jim Johnson turned over its final reports to Kerry that night.

Kerry waited until Monday night to tell his top two aides, Johnson and campaign Manager Mary Beth Cahill, about his decision.

The Democratic ticket will meet up late Tuesday in Pittsburgh, where the candidates and their families will have dinner together at Kerry’s estate. They fly to Ohio, a major battleground state, on Wednesday for their first joint appearance. Their multistate tour will take them to Edwards’ home state of North Carolina, a GOP bastion that Kerry hopes to put in play with his selection.

Bush travels to the state Wednesday for a GOP counterpunch.

The Kerry-Edwards ticket will be nominated at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, which begins July 26. Kerry hopes to dominate the political landscape in the run-up to the convention, fleshing out his candidacy for voters who know little about him and hopefully opening a lead against Bush. Polls show the race is tight.

Edwards was the last major candidate standing against Kerry in the Democratic presidential race. He emerged as a favorite second choice of Democratic voters, thanks to his youthful good looks, a self-assured manner and an upbeat, optimistic style. He saved his harshest criticism for Bush, whom he accused of creating “two Americas” – one for the privileged, another for everyone else.

Kerry and Edwards are both wealthy. Kerry came about his money by marriage, Edwards through jury verdicts against corporations that he says wronged middle- and lower-class Americans.

Edwards and Kerry had few major policy disagreements – both supported the decision to go to war in Iraq, for example, and both voted against the $87 billion package for Iraq and Afghanistan.

One division was over the North American Free Trade Agreement: Kerry voted for it, but Edwards campaigned against NAFTA, which the Senate approved before he was elected. Edwards made trade, jobs and the economy the centerpiece of his campaign, questioning Kerry’s vote on NAFTA but not pledging to seek its repeal.

They also differed in some ways on how to approach some issues. Both called for rolling back the Bush tax cuts, but Kerry proposed eliminating the tax cuts for those who make more than $200,000 a year while Edwards set the ceiling at $240,000. Kerry voted against the ban on so-called “partial birth” abortion passed by Congress, but Edwards did not vote. A more clear-cut difference was Kerry’s opposition to the death penalty and Edwards’ support of it.

Kerry finished first and Edwards second in the Iowa caucuses in January, surprising front-runner Howard Dean and driving regional favorite Gephardt out of the race. Dean finished second to Kerry in the New Hampshire primary, and as Dean lost the next dozen delegate contests, the race became a contest between Kerry and Edwards.

Yet Edwards could never muster enough momentum to overtake his Senate colleague. He won only a single state during the competitive phase of the primary, his native South Carolina, and ended his bid following the 10-state Super Tuesday elections on March 2. North Carolina gave Edwards a victory in its first presidential caucus on April 17, but the vote meant more as a boost to his standing at the Democratic National Convention and to his potential as a running mate.

AP-ES-07-06-04 1154EDT

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