"Instead you can embrace the politics of hope, the politics of what's possible because this is America, where everything is possible," the upbeat Southern populist said on the Democratic National Convention's third night.
"The truth is, we still live in two different Americas," said Edwards, the son of a Carolina mill worker and the first in his family to attend college.
An America, Edward argued, that is still divided into rich and poor. And, as CBS News Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm reports, the North Carolina senator laid out the ticket's plans to level the playing field.
"We're going to say, 'No,' forever to any American working full-time and living in poverty," Edwards said, reprising the theme that fueled his own surprisingly strong challenge for the Democratic presidential nomination last winter. "Not in our America!"
His appearance prompted the most boisterous demonstration of the convention to date. Thousands of delegates chanted "Edwards!" holding aloft identical red signs bearing the newly nominated vice presidential candidate's name.
Following Edwards' speech, the delegations from each state formally cast their votes for Kerry, officially making him the Democratic Party's candidate for president, which he'll accept on Thursday.
Edwards' speech came a few hours after, sailing in across Boston Harbor with a dozen of his Vietnam War buddies.
"We're going to write the next great chapter of history in this country together," Kerry vowed at a welcome-home rally in the city that has nourished his political career for a quarter century.
Like dozens of other speakers, Edwards stressed the overriding national security theme at the convention. He recalled Kerry's service in Vietnam a generation ago, saying he ordered his swiftboat turned around despite enemy fire and plucked a fellow American from the river to safety.
"Decisive. Strong. Aren't these the traits you want in a commander in chief?" he asked rhetorically.
It's been an ongoing theme here in Boston: likening today's Democrats to the original patriots, reports Storm. Rebelling now against the so-called tyranny of the Bush administration and making the case that decorated soldier Kerry is the best man to lead the charge.
To reinforce that message, a parade of 12 retired admirals and generals, including two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark, came to the convention stage Wednesday in a show of support for Kerry.
Edwards' speech marked something of a pivot to other issues that have received scant attention during three nights of convention oratory.
In one of the few references of the convention to Kerry's economic program, Edwards said it relies on tax hikes on Americans in top 2 percent of income and offers the hope of benefits to millions.
"We can build an America where we no longer have two health care systems … and one public school system that works for all our children," he said.
"We can create good paying jobs in America again," said Edwards, arguing for an end to tax breaks that give companies an incentive to send jobs overseas.
Recalling a childhood in the segregated South, Edwards said he and Kerry want "our children and our grandchildren to be the first generations to grow up in an America that's no longer divided by race."
In a slap at the Bush administration, he said Kerry will "build and lead strong alliances and safeguard and secure weapons of mass destruction ... We will always use our military might to keep the American people safe."
"And we will have one clear unmistakable message for al Qaeda and the rest of these terrorists. You can run. You cannot hide. And we will destroy you."
Edwards viewed his convention speech as an opportunity to introduce himself and Kerry to millions of Americans who know little about either.
In, Edwards was asked what he'd like the country to know about him that it doesn't already know.
"The toughness inside me," said Edwards. "And I think that they've seen enough of me to know that I'm optimistic and hopeful. It's in my nature. But what's hard to see is the toughness that's there … I know how tough I can be."
Nearly a decade younger than Kerry, Edwards is father to two young children and projects a sunnier, more youthful appearance than the man at the top of the ticket. At the same time, years of honing courtroom speeches to juries has left him with a smoother, more animated and listener-friendly speaking style than Kerry, who has spent the last two decades debating in the Senate.
"This very experienced trial lawyer came before this crowd and demonstrated why he's been very successful as a trial lawyer, because he laid it out in terms people can understand," reports CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer. "Instead of saying we have to remember our wounded coming back from Iraq, he talked about how there are people there that can no longer tie their own shoes.
"The inference being, of course, that they no longer have hands. He talked about people who can't comb their own hair. This is the way a good lawyer puts it to a jury when he is explaining why his client should be rewarded."
If the Kerry campaign has sought to make use of those attributes, Republicans have tried to raise questions about his qualifications to become second-in-line for the presidency.
"Dick Cheney can be president," Mr. Bush declared at one point, an implicit claim that Edwards cannot.
The North Carolina senator is unimpressed with Republican criticisms claiming he's a lightweight, not ready to be vice president, particularly when it comes to foreign affairs.
"Not true. Not true," said Edwards, in his interview with CBS News. "You know, it's not the length of somebody's resume, political resume. It's the strength of their vision and the strength of their character that tells you whether they're ready to lead. And I am ready to lead."