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Gary Younge
Democrats' new double act take their first steps towards the White House with a traditional dose of US optimism

On the one hand there was Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry - stiff in demeanour and laboured in delivery, the experienced, statesmanlike north-eastern patriarchal blueblood. On the other there was his freshly-picked and fresh-faced running mate, John Edwards - approachable in style and affable in manner, the youthful inexperienced red-blooded southerner.

The straight man and the crowd pleaser; Kerry painted in matt, Edwards in gloss. The two Johnnies, on the first stop of a tour they hope will put them in the White House.

With Cleveland as their stage, Lake Erie as their backdrop and Tina Turner's You're Simply the Best as their sound track, the two emerged with their families to darkening, midday clouds to talk about their vision of a brighter tomorrow.

Mr Kerry's older daughter and stepson distracted Mr Edwards' toddlers; the families and the candidates had an ease of presence that belied the barbed exchanges of the primary campaigns.

By the time Mr Edwards took the microphone the drizzle had started. But in this swing state, that has lost one in six of its manufacturing jobs since President Bush came into office, no amount of rain was going to ruin this parade.

They were here to tap the single most valuable commodity in American politics after money - optim- ism. In the only country in the world where people consistently believe that the next year will be better than this one (notwithstanding a few years in the late 70s) the crowd had invested their hopes in Kerry and Edwards.

Few denied Mr Kerry was short on charisma. And most believed Mr Edwards' folksy manner added a much-needed common touch. "He has the ability to make it plain and break it down," said congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs. "They make a good mix. They suit each other." So Mr Kerry held Mr Edwards hand high to huge cheers and high hopes. Mr Kerry's wife, Teresa, introduced Mr Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, who introduced Mr Kerry who introduced Mr Edwards. And between the Oprah-like platitudes of this concentric initiation came one of the crucial individual qualities that Mr Edwards adds to the ticket - his life story.

"He represents opportunity," said Mr Kerry, an Ivy League graduate partly educated at a private school in Switzerland, as he spoke of his new running mate. "Because he's watched his father go to work in a mill and his mother go to work as a postal worker."

Despite an early reference to 1879 - when Cleveland became the first city to get electric street lights - Mr Kerry did his best to lighten up his pitch with varying degrees of success. "The only person who had a better weekend than John Kerry and John Edwards was Spider Man," said Mr Kerry, referring to the latest box office hit.

"What about Michael Moore?" asked one man in the crowd and Mr Kerry shook his head nervously and smiled.

More laughs came for his claim that the dream team has "got better vision, better ideas, real plans, we've got a better sense of what's happening to America and we've got better hair".

They certainly do have better hair - Mr Kerry has a silver mane ("He looks French," jibed one Republican last year), Mr Edwards has a brown glossy quiff.

Fears that Mr Edwards' style on the stump would accentuate the dreary impression are, for the time being, overblown. Mr Kerry is not that bad and Mr Edwards is not that good and come November they will be up against President Bush and Dick Cheney who are no great performers.

But Mr Edwards knows his audience and caters for them well. He takes over, to great applause to revisit his theme that there are two Americas - one for the incredibly wealthy and one for the rest trying to make ends meet - that played so well in the primary campaign.

It is a quirky tune for a couple of white, male, multimillionaires to sing as they go out to bat for America's working poor.

But Mr Edwards has almost perfect pitch. And the choir not only know the words, but love to hum along.

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