DES MOINES, Iowa - Sen. John Edwards and Gov. Tom Vilsack advertised themselves as potential vice presidential candidates Saturday with sharply populist assaults on President Bush before hundreds of Democratic activists.
Delegates at the Iowa Democratic State Convention repeatedly came to their feet in cheers as the North Carolina senator and Iowa's governor, both prominent in speculation about Sen. John Kerry's choice of running mate, lambasted Mr. Bush.
"George Bush has a health care plan - pray you don't get sick," Mr. Edwards said. "They have led us from the edge of greatness when Bill Clinton left office to the edge of a cliff."
Mr. Edwards said Mr. Bush has accomplished so little that he has been reduced to little more than attack commercials as the campaign unfolds. He said the presumed Democratic nominee has withstood the attack and is climbing in the polls.
"The American people are going to reject this tired, hateful, negative politics of the past," said Mr.Edwards.
Mr. Vilsack contended Bush has decimated vital programs such as education by giving away money in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
"I'm proud of the fact that in our party we believe that health care is a right and not a privilege," Mr. Vilsack said, alleging that the Bush administration has allowed millions of Americans to go without health coverage.
Both bashed Mr. Bush, but Mr. Edwards, sounding the themes he offered during his bid for the nomination, had the more fiery speech. Mr. Vilsack promoted his accomplishments as governor, especially Iowa's broadened health care coverage and improving test scores among Iowa students.
Mr. Vilsack labeled working families America's forgotten class, ignored by the administration.
"We are fortunate in this party to have a nominee for president who has listened and understands the stresses that these families are going through," he said.
Mr. Edwards argued that voters have rendered a basic judgment on Mr. Bush and are giving Democrats a historic opening.
"The American people have made a fundamental judgment," he said. "This president misled us on something as fundamental as going to war."
A traditional role of a running mate in a campaign is to serve as an attack dog while the presidential candidate remains above the fray.