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Edwards moves Democratic Georgians in presidential battle

By Justin Boron

Overtones of a battlefield's threshold poured out of the stereo speakers at the Georgia International Convention Center. Swarms of Georgia Democrats listening to the fight song "Eye of the Tiger" had shown up and eagerly anticipated the arrival of a political hero who will lead them into the fight for the nation's presidency.

Monday, that hero was vice presidential nominee John Edwards.

An estimated crowd of 3,600 supporters attended a welcome rally for Edwards in College Park as he flew in for an evening fund-raiser at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta.

The event had been planned at the last minute on Friday, organizers said.

But that didn't stop droves of people from attending.

As the convention room filled, supporters waiting outside demanded in a chant, "Let us in."

Those chants prompted the event organizers to retract the temporary wall to accommodate the overflow.

The room became so crowded that a group of people stood behind risers for the media, peering over the bars to catch a glimpse of Edwards in the flesh.

A 13-year-old supporter disadvantaged by her height stood behind risers for the media, and said she came from Pittsburgh to visit with her family in Georgia and to support John Edwards.

"I can't see around the risers because I'm so short," Alissa Prekins said.

Repeated false starts worked to heighten Edwards' dramatic entrance.

The delays created a buildup that culminated in the crowd's 60-second-long uproar when Edwards took the stage, lasting until he began to speak.

"Boy it's great to be back in Georgia," he said. "It's great to be in a place where people talk a little like I do."

Edwards' 25-minute speech gave his obligatory praise to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, pointing to his "real American values" as a confirmation of his moral qualification to hold the presidency.

"Where you and I come from you don't judge somebody's values on how they use the word in a political ad," he said.

Following his accolades for Kerry, he condemned the spate of negative campaign ads questioning his running mate's military record.

But he stopped short of criticizing his opponents and delved into the part of his speech renowned for its optimistic message and spoke of the plan to unite the "two Americas."

Touching on health care, education and the economy, he repeated the phrase, "We can do better."

Several Clayton County officials stood close to the stage while Edwards spoke to the enthused crowd, hoping to hear Edwards relate his message to their home community.

Recently elected to county commission in District 3, Wole Ralph said he hoped the Kerry-Edwards campaign would address the tremendous expense weighing on local governments to accommodate post-Sept. 11 security issues.

Gail Davenport, Clayton County Democratic Convention delegate, showed up, dancing to the pre-event music, ready to be moved by Edwards' poignancy.

"He motivates us to go out and vote, and I think he'll give us a message of hope," she said.

Edwards closed his optimistic speech by repeating his campaign's signature phrase, joined by the crowd.

"Hope is on the way," they said.