Cleveland President Bush on Wednesday curtly dismissed freshman Sen. John Edwards' credentials to be vice president while Democratic challenger John Kerry and his running mate rallied voters in battleground states. "Dick Cheney can be president," Bush declared, and Kerry suggested that was part of the problem.
A day after he welcomed Edwards to the presidential campaign, Bush visited Edwards' hometown of Raleigh, N.C., to criticize the North Carolina senator's role in holding up judicial appointments. The president said he was unconcerned about the potential of Edwards to help carry states in the South, a GOP bastion.
"When they go to the polls to vote for president, they'll understand the senator from Massachusetts doesn't share their values," Bush said. "I'm going to carry the South because the people understand that they share -- we share values."
During a trip scheduled before Kerry picked Edwards, Bush said Edwards and other Senate Democrats obstructed the work of the federal judiciary by refusing to fill judgeships. He said he told three nominees in a private meeting, "You're being hung out by a handful of United States senators."
A reporter noted that Edwards was being described as "charming, engaging, a nimble campaigner, a populist and even sexy" and asked, "How does he stack up against Dick Cheney?" Bush didn't hesitate: "Dick Cheney can be president. Next?"
Kerry struck back hours later at a rally in Dayton, Ohio.
"He doesn't have a record to run on, he's just got a record to run away from, and he's attacking everyone," Kerry said of Bush. He said Edwards had "more experience than George Bush and better judgment than ... when he became president."
Bush "was right that Dick Cheney was ready to take over on day one, and he did and has been ever since, folks, and that's what we have got to change," Kerry said.
Earlier, Kerry's campaign said Bush was "hitting the panic button." "The fact that the president of the United States is personally taking swipes at the Kerry-Edwards ticket a mere day after it was announced speaks volumes," the campaign said in a statement. "It's just disappointing that the president of the United States would stoop to this kind of political bickering."
Kerry, who himself once suggested his younger Senate colleague lacked the experience to be president, declared that Edwards was "ready to help lead America." He and Edwards were stumping together for the first time as running mates in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, showcasing their newfound camaraderie and putting aside past differences.
"America can do better," an upbeat Kerry said at a lakefront rally in Cleveland as he and Edwards and their families stood in a light rain under a banner declaring "A New Team for a New America."
"I want you to know we think this is a dream ticket. We've got better vision. We've got better ideas. We've got real plans. We've got a better sense of what's happening to America," Kerry said.
"And," Kerry added with a grin, "We've got better hair. I'll tell you, that goes a long way."
Kerry used the "better hair" line three times Tuesday and later told reporters that his wife, Teresa, had teased him about it. "Teresa turned and said to me, 'You just lost the bald vote,"' Kerry said, laughing.