RENO - Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards urged more than 4,000 supporters at the University of Nevada, Reno Monday to help get out the vote in the battleground state and spread the message that "hope is on the way."
"We need you every day between now and the election," Edwards told the boisterous crowd in a speech that criticized the Bush administration's divisiveness and promised a Kerry-Edwards administration would stand up for middle-class Americans.
"We believe you should never look down on anybody. We need to lift people up," he said.
Bush routinely stands with "the drug companies, the insurance companies, the oil companies of America," Edwards said.
"Isn't it time we had a president of the United States who stood up for you?" he said to loud applause.
Leaders of northern Nevada's black, Hispanic and American Indian communities rallied with Edwards in a series of speeches before his address on the campus quad.
"We are standing with you today, with the Democratic Party because we are the party of inclusiveness," said Arlen Melendez, a Vietnam veteran and chairman of the Reno Sparks Indian Colony.
"We are the party that represents people of all walks of life," he said.
"This country needs new leadership that will meet with groups that represent Native Americans, blacks, Latinos and Asians," he said.
Emma Supevelda, a UNR literature professor and president of Latinos for Political Education, led the crowd in a chant of "No mas Bush," "No more Bush."
"The message from the Latino community is that we don't want a president who speaks Spanish to us, but turns around and supports English-only legislation," she said.
Melendez said the Bush-Cheney campaign's criticism of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's war record has divided the country and caused divisions "even among our Vietnam veterans."
"That should never happen. We should never question the honor or the medals of our veterans," he said.
Edwards continued the theme of inclusiveness versus divisions in a 25-minute speech that repeated a pledge Nevada Democrats believe will help the Kerry-Bush ticket carry the state that Bush won in 2000 after Bill Clinton claimed it twice before:
"When John Kerry is president, there will be no nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain," he said to loud cheers.
Edwards said President Bush should apologize for Vice President Dick Cheney's comments suggesting a Kerry-Edwards administration would leave the country vulnerable to new terrorist attacks.
"The vice president actually said if you don't vote for Dick Cheney and George Bush, if there's another terrorist attack, basically it is your fault," Edwards said from the outdoor stage in front of Morrill Hall draped with American flags and red-white-and-blue bunting.
"This statement was intended to divide us. It was calculated to divide us. And to divide us on an issue of safety and security for the American people - here's the truth - it is un-American," he said.
Edwards said he and Kerry have a plan to "build one America that actually works for everybody, not just for a few."
"George Bush and Dick Cheney, their solution for everything is the same thing, right? More tax cuts for multimillionaires," he said.
Kerry would restore the United States' respect in the world in contrast to Bush's "go-it alone policy" which "drives away our friends and allies," Edwards said.
"The truth is, Iraq is a mess. And it's a mess because of this president and this vice president, " he said.
Before Edwards' speech, police stepped between about 30 Bush-Cheney backers and a dozen Kerry-Edwards supporters who waved signs, chanted and shouted back and forth at each other at a protest on the edge of the quad organized by the National College Republicans.
Gregory Green, 24, a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, wore a large yellow flip-flop sandal around his neck to ridicule what he said was Kerry's frequent change of positions on important issues.
"I don't know how people can know what policies Kerry stands for because he's changed his position so many times on so many issues, like war," said Green, who said he served five years in the U.S. Air Force in Iraq.
Other protesters waved a sign that read, "Hanoi John Kerry changes positions more often than a Nevada prostitute" and "Flush the Johns."
As the Bush backers chanted "four more years," the Democratic contingent shouted "no more Bush" and pushed in front of the GOP group waving yellow signs that read "No More BU-- SH--!"
Police officers told the Edwards supporters to move back out of the area set aside for protests and reported no trouble after that.
"Reno is a conservative place so we need to give the Democratic ticket as mush support as we can," said Kyle Isacksen of Reno, one of the Democratic activists.
"Bush has lost jobs and lost wars. It's a mess. If he were the executive of a company, he'd be fired," he said.