Local News

N.C. Delegates Seize Their Moment In Edwards Spotlight

Posted July 29, 2004 1:07 a.m. EDT

— For U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre and his two sons, Joshua and Stephen, Wednesday night's Democratic National Convention speech by vice presidential nominee John Edwards was a family affair.

McIntyre wore a suit and tie. But his sons -- both students at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, both former Capitol Hill interns for Edwards -- wore Carolina blue T-shirts that proclaimed "Turn it blue!"

The slogan was less a proclamation of Tar Heel supremacy than a prediction of Democratic victory after years of red GOP presidential domination, Joshua McIntyre explained.

"It's 'Turn it blue' for turning North Carolina blue in November," he said, moments after Edwards finished his speech to the convention.

For his father, the moment on the FleetCenter floor transcended mere politics.

"It's been over 140 years since we last nominated a vice president from North Carolina," Mike McIntyre said. "It's almost a spine-tingling experience, because you realize it's such a rare moment. ... To share this with my own sons is very special."

For the 107-member North Carolina delegation, Edwards' speech was the climax of a long night of buildup that included live shots from the candidate's hometown of Robbins on the big screen at the convention arena, then speeches by Edwards' oldest daughter, Cate, and his wife, Elizabeth.

As television cameras and people with floor passes crowded the aisles, North Carolina delegates waved signs reading "Edwards" and "Hope is on the way" -- a key line from Edwards' speech -- leaping to their feet to whoop and clap at every opportunity.

Delegate Sean Conner of Beaufort led cheering from the front row of the delegation, which was seated at the front of the FleetCenter.

Susan Burgess, a city council member from Charlotte, was pumped up by Edwards' address.

"I thought it was just great," she said. "John Edwards had a message of hope and opportunity for America.

"I feel like I'm one of the luckiest people in the world to be here tonight to witness this."

For Jack Hunt, a delegate and 82-year-old former state legislator from Cleveland County, Edwards' moment on the national stage meant looking back on a lifetime of waiting for North Carolina to produce a candidate for national office.

"We always hoped so," he said Wednesday. "We tried with (former governor and U.S. senator) Terry Sanford. Jim Hunt was close to that, if he had beat Jesse Helms" in their bitter 1984 U.S. Senate battle.

"I'm pleasantly surprised" by Edwards' swift rise to prominence, Hunt said.

In Robbins, population 1,200, a couple hundred Edwards supporters gathered to watch a feed from the convention in the gymnasium at North Moore High School.

Milton Person, who owns a Robbins funeral home, said it's "nice to know that somebody from a small town like this can become vice president."

Said family friend Shirley Mashburn: "It's wonderful because Johnny Edwards today is the Johnny Edwards that I saw coming out of this dressing room whenever they were playing ball. And he's just always been the real thing."

The hometown crowd seemed to react most favorably to the parts of Edwards' speech that promised tax breaks for education and more affordable health care if Kerry won the presidency.

"I can't afford health care, and I know so many people like myself, so many people with children. Any problem that comes up, you're over the cliff," said Warren Scott, 46, of Pinebluff.

Delegates were pleased Edwards hit heavily on the theme of "two Americas" that was the thrust of many of his stump speeches during his unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"Brilliant speech," said Pricey Harrison of Greensboro, a candidate for the North Carolina House. "It gets better every time I hear it."

Shirley Key of Pilot Mountain chairs the Democratic Women of Surry County and held a fund-raiser for Edwards during his first-ever political race, the 1998 U.S. Senate contest in which the Raleigh lawyer ousted incumbent Republican Lauch Faircloth.

"I remember John Edwards before he ever got into politics," Key said. "People everywhere in North Carolina love him, because he's such a family man. ... He understands where we're all coming from."

Edwards was expected to follow Wednesday night's speech with a breakfast visit to the North Carolina delegation Thursday.