RALEIGH, N.C. — The campaign swing introducing North Carolina Sen. John Edwards as John Kerry's nominee for vice president ended Saturday in Raleigh. The crowd was estimated at 25,000 people by North Carolina State University police.
In spite of temperatures in the 90s on a hot and dry day, rally participants gathered on the N.C. State campus more than four hours before Kerry and Edwards got on the stage.They sipped water provided by the campaign, lying on picnic blankets or standing on the side of a hill looking over the quad.
More than 800 people were treated for heat problems before it was over, with at least 15 transported to the hospital.
Organizers provided 20,000 bottles of water, which seemed like a small number considering the conditions.
About 15 supporters of President George W. Bush carried placards outside the campus entrance adjoining the rally, while a woman in a Statue of Liberty costume inside the rally was led away by police.
The rally, which began just before 5 p.m., ended a four-day campaign swing that included stops in New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and West Virginia.
Kerry told the crowd that he and his running mate believe in faith and family and are committed to creating jobs and insuring Americans without health insurance. He said that is why he chose Edwards to be his running mate.
"John Edwards and I want to restore the America we know it can be," Kerry said. "We are going to win this election. We're going to change the direction of this nation."
Kerry was scheduled to leave town late Saturday, after doing an interview for "60 Minutes" from Edwards' home after the rally, while Edwards spent the night in Raleigh.
Edwards was to get his own campaign jet Sunday and begin a week of solo campaigning on Wednesday. He is scheduled to hit Iowa, Illinois, Florida, California, Louisiana and Texas.
Mike Harris, 49, of Morrisville did not seem to mind that he had to sit hundreds of feet away from the stage. Harris, his 8-year-old son, Jordan, and 11-year-old daughter, Samantha, sat underneath some shade trees and a large Kerry-Edwards banner.
"It's cool," Samantha Harris said. "I've never been to a (presidential) rally before. It'll be something I can tell my children."
The rally came after Charlotte's Republican mayor stepped into the campaign to question Edwards' qualifications as a vice-presidential choice. Mayor Pat McCrory said Edwards lacks foreign-policy experience and has no leadership credentials.
McCrory also added his voice to those Republicans who want unedited tapes of Friday's Kerry/Edwards fundraiser in New York City released to the public.
Friday night, a star-studded concert at Radio City Music Hall raised millions for the Kerry/Edwards campaign. Some of the performers did not hold back, using insults and expletives to describe President George W. Bush.
McCrory said the campaign should release the tapes so North Carolina voters can "decide for themselves if the Kerry campaign represents their values."
President Bush, meanwhile, campaigned in Ohio on Saturday after visiting Pennsylvania on Friday. He spoke at a rally in York about the war on terrorism and homeland security.
Bush has visited Pennsylvania more than any other state since taking office. Polls there show him tied with Kerry. Bush lost to Al Gore in Pennsylvania four years ago.
Vice President Dick Cheney, in an interview with WRAL's David Crabtree, said Friday that he plans to visit North Carolina at some point during the campaign. With Edwards on the Democratic ticket, North Carolina could be a battleground state, prompting more visits from Bush and Cheney than when they campaigned in 2000.
Bush was in Raleigh last Wednesday at a fundraiser for the N.C. GOP Party.
Hundreds came to the N.C. Democratic Party headquarters Friday night to volunteer for Saturday's event.
The volunteer briefing started inside, but so many people showed up, they moved the meeting outside. It soon became a celebration of its own.
North Carolina Democrats had been urging Kerry to pick Edwards as his running mate ever since Kerry sewed up the nomination in March. Democrats who voted in the April presidential caucus here said they chose Edwards to send a message to Kerry that he could win North Carolina's 15 electoral votes in November with Edwards on the ticket.
No Democrat has won the presidential race in North Carolina since 1976.
"This will dispel the rumor that we are a Republican state," said Steve Porter of Charlotte, a local Democratic official from Charlotte.
Still, Kerry's advisers acknowledge that the fight in North Carolina is uphill.
Kerry began running ads in the state when he tapped Edwards. Bush soon followed with his own commercials.