- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2004

Sen. John Edwards yesterday asked for a series of four debates leading up to the 10 Super Tuesday primaries on March 2, as he campaigned in Maryland seeking to define the differences between himself and front-runner Sen. John Kerry.

“While we are all Democrats, there are very real differences among us, and the American people deserve to know who we are, where we’re from,” Mr. Edwards said in a letter to Mr. Kerry. The North Carolina senator said he would welcome allowing Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and the Rev. Al Sharpton, the other candidates for the nomination, to participate in the debate.

The four men have already agreed to debate Feb. 26 in Los Angeles.

Kerry campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said they consider the entire campaign a debate.

“We’re not sure what John Edwards is going to say now that he hasn’t had the opportunity to say in the last 18 debates over the last 10 months, including just last week in Wisconsin,” she said.

“We welcome a debate with John Edwards, but the reality is John Kerry is running a national, not regional campaign, and we prefer to spend the next 10 days crisscrossing the nation talking and listening to as many voters as possible,” Ms. Cutter said.

With little difference between himself and Mr. Kerry on most social issues, Mr. Edwards has chosen trade and economic policy as the place to draw distinctions. At a campaign rally at Prince George’s Community College yesterday, Mr. Edwards proposed a new package of incentives to boost small businesses, which he said would go a long way to stop “the erosion of jobs” now going overseas.

He proposed a 10 percent tax break for small businesses that manufacture goods in the United States and tax credits to help companies that promise to create high-paying jobs.

Mr. Edwards said those plans will do far more than President Bush has done so far, but he also believes the issue distinguishes him from Mr. Kerry.

“I know that I have the most comprehensive agenda on creating jobs,” he said.

But Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri said in a conference call with reporters yesterday that Mr. Kerry owns the trade policy and jobs issues.

“Though John Edwards might want to make an issue out of trade, labor leaders everywhere know that no one else running can hold a candle to what John Kerry has done for working Americans and what he’ll keep doing for them as our president,” said Mr. Gephardt, whose own presidential campaign petered out after the Iowa caucuses and has since endorsed Mr. Kerry.

Mr. Edwards has promised to campaign aggressively in about half of the March 2 contests, and yesterday named Maryland, Georgia, New York, Ohio and California as targets — even though polls show him trailing badly in some key states.

A new poll of likely primary voters in New York by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion gave Mr. Kerry a lead of 66 percent to Mr. Edwards’ 14 percent, while Mr. Sharpton had 7 percent and Mr. Kucinich had 3 percent.

The University of Cincinnati’s Ohio Poll from earlier this month found Mr. Kerry leading by more than 30 percentage points in that state, while a Schapiro Research Group poll found the Massachusetts senator leading in Georgia by more than 20 points.

Mr. Edwards, though, told reporters he believes his campaign can go on even if he doesn’t win any of the upcoming primaries or caucuses.

“I’m all about getting the delegates necessary,” he said.

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