BOSTON, Mass. — As former president Bill Clinton stirred the opening night of the Democratic National Convention Monday with a summons to send John Kerry to the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney accused Senate Democrats -- including Kerry and John Edwards -- of "outrageous" behavior for blocking President George W. Bush's judicial nominees.
Clinton also accused Bush of botching both the economy and the war on terror as Edwards prepared to head to the convention on Tuesday.
Edwards did some last-minute work on his convention speech Monday at his home in Raleigh. But he was not shouting any practice applause lines. He was resting a raspy voice strained by nearly three weeks of nonstop campaigning.
The North Carolina senator will speak Wednesday night at the convention, where he will be nominated as Kerry's vice presidential running mate.
Cheney's jab at the Democratic presidential ticket came in an otherwise low-key appearance at a fund-raising luncheon for Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, a former state senator.
For the most part, Cheney used his half-hour appearance before the GOP crowd to laud the Bush administration's record, especially on the economy and the war on terrorism.
"What this president has accomplished in 3-1/2 years is remarkable, but the danger has not passed," Cheney said. "The threat remains. And in the time ahead, we need the same steadfast presidential leadership."
He continued that theme at a $1,000-a-person fund-raising event Monday night in Portland, Ore., saying Bush wanted to be re-elected to "vanquish" the terrorists that seek to destroy the nation.
Cheney told the 350 people attending the event that the country is facing an enemy "every bit as intent on destroying us as the Axis powers in World War II and the Soviet Union in the Cold War."
At the luncheon, the vice president mentioned Kerry, who is being nominated for president this week at the Democratic National Convention, only once, when he denounced Democratic senators for using filibuster tactics to block 10 of Bush's judicial appointments they regard as too conservative.
In particular, Cheney signaled out the Senate's refusal to allow a vote on the nomination of William Myers of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has been called the nation's most liberal court.
In June 2002, the 9th Circuit declared that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools unconstitutional because the words "under God" amount to an endorsement of religion.
The president has defended "our fundamental rights and values," including the pledge, Cheney said. "Looks to me like the 9th Circuit could use some new judges.
"What the Democrats in the Senate are doing is simply outrageous," Cheney said.
Clinton, meanwhile, criticized Bush for his handling of terrorism.
"Strength and wisdom are not opposing values," the former president said sarcastically of the man who followed him into office. He said Republicans "need a divided America, but we don't."
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Eager to draw attention to Kerry's record of military service, Clinton said the Yale graduate could easily have stayed out of the Vietnam War three decades ago. The former president said he, Bush and Cheney all did so, but not Kerry.
"He said: 'send me,'" Clinton said.
The party's 44th national convention opened under extraordinarily tight security as Kerry campaigned in Florida. In a battleground state he has visited more than a half-dozen times this year, he urged Republicans and independents to "stop and think" before casting their votes in November.
Clinton was the cleanup speaker on the first night of a convention of Democrats both unified and hungry for a return to power. He joined a parade of party elders in oratory designed to present Kerry as a man ready to serve as commander in chief -- and Bush as a failed president.
The pre-convention polls show Kerry tied or slightly ahead of Bush, although the same surveys show the president with a clear advantage over his challenger in handling the war on terror.
With the Kerry campaign choreographing the proceedings to the minute, the famous and the nationally unknown were put into service to make the case for the four-term senator's White House bid.
"When policies are clearly not working, we can change them," said Al Gore, who lost the 2000 election despite winning the popular vote. "If our leaders make mistakes, we can hold them accountable -- even if they never admit their mistakes."
Rep. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said Kerry's "courage earned him a Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts, risking his life to save others." The lawmaker read aloud from one of Kerry's medal citations.
There were moments of solemnity, as well, at the first national political convention since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The delegates gathered amid unprecedented security. The subway station that runs near the FleetCenter was barricaded shut, and armed personnel stood guard along a seven-foot-tall metal security fence that ringed the convention complex.
The hall went nearly dark, the only light provided by thousands of small flashlights held aloft by delegates for a remembrance of the strikes that killed nearly 3,000 souls. The haunting sounds of "Amazing Grace" floated across the arena from the violin of a 16-year-old musician.
The first night of the convention included only muted references to the social issues that divide America politically.
"John Kerry and John Edwards won't prevent you from getting the reproductive health care you need," said Gloria Feldt of Planned Parenthood.
Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin said Kerry will guarantee the right to family health benefits to all our families - including domestic partners.
Clinton, who twice led his party to victory, declared himself "a foot soldier" in Kerry's army and urged Americans to rally behind the candidate's upbeat message.
"Democrats and Republicans have very different ideas on what choices we should make, rooted in fundamentally different views of how we should meet our common challenges at home and how we should play our role in the world," the former president said.
"Democrats want to build an America of shared responsibilities and shared opportunities ... Republicans believe in an America run by the right people - their people," he said.
Bush, at his ranch in Texas, fell while bicycling on steep dirt paths during the day. He waved away his medics and continued his ride despite a small cut on his knee.