BOSTON — Testing his legendary Southern courtroom-developed charm on the nation, John Edwards is aiming to infuse John Kerry's New England convention with youth and energy Wednesday as Democrats prepare to declare them their vice presidential and presidential nominees.
"He'll be talking both about the big themes of this campaign and optimism searching for a better tomorrow that this nation has always represented," the North Carolina senator's wife, Elizabeth, said Wednesday.
Despite Kerry arriving back in his hometown to address the nation Thursday night as the Democrats' choice to oust President Bush, it's the other John who got the convention's top billing Wednesday as Kerry's running mate.
After two days of challenges to a president they ache to replace, the convention's 4,350-plus delegates will shout their way through a roll call of states immediately following Edwards' speech, expected to include a recitation of his contention that Bush has created "two Americas" - one for the rich and one for everyone else.
Early Wednesday, Edwards and his wife went to the convention floor for a microphone check. "Should I just go ahead and give the speech now?" he asked a nearly empty hall.
"It was actually a little less scary than I thought it would be when we got up there on the stage," his wife said later on CBS-TV's "The Early Show. "It felt a lot more intimate than you would expect if you were standing on the sidelines watching it, so I felt a lot more at ease."
While Edwards is no stranger to crowds, he will face his biggest audience ever when he officially accepts the Democratic vice presidential nomination.
Audiences will pay attention to how he acts and how he looks in addition to what he says.
"Historically, there's been a tendency for the candidate that the public perceives as the nicest or most likeable to win the election," said Dr. Craig Smith, a communications professor at North Carolina State University.
Smith, who specializes in analyzing political speech, says Edwards has two strengths as a communicator -- one is his personal contact. Edwards embraces hands when he shakes them and smiles -- often.
What about other hand gestures that include a thumbs up and fist pumping?
"I can't imagine that would be among the more important things that would influence people's's vote," Smith said.
In his speech, Smith says Edwards must show what he brings to the ticket that Kerry does not.
"He's not the candidate you look to if you want a rousing speech. That's not him," Smith said of Kerry. "On the other hand, Sen. Edwards gives a great rousing speech," Smith said.
Edwards' speech follows two days in which some of the Democratic Party's best and brightest have praised Kerry with stories of his service in Vietnam while criticizing Bush's handling of the war in Iraq.
Kerry planned a dramatic arrival Wednesday in Boston, riding a water taxi across the harbor. On Tuesday, he cited his qualifications to be commander in chief and asserted, "I will and I can fight a more effective war on terror than George Bush is."
Campaigning in California, Vice President Dick Cheney said both Kerry and Edwards voted yes for war, but against subsequent funding for the troops. "We need a president who will back our troops 100 percent, and that's exactly what we've got in George W. Bush," the vice president said.