- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2004

Since former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean ended his presidential run, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina sees only two viable Democratic Party candidates and wants at least one debate without the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio.

Mr. Edwards said the two front-runners — Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and himself — should have a one-on-one debate before the Super Tuesday primaries on March 2.

Donna Brazile, head of the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute, agreed, adding that the top candidates should have a chance to face off during Thursday’s debate sponsored by CNN and the Los Angeles Times.

“It’s probably too much to get them to move aside and allow us to see a one-on-one debate between the two viable contenders,” Ms. Brazile said. “Sharpton and Kucinich have been great participants in all the debates, but this is the playoffs.”

She suggested that CNN give Mr. Kucinich and Mr. Sharpton some free airtime for bowing out of the debate.

But the odds are slim that the two long shots will agree to stay out of the debate even though the League of Women Voters is sponsoring a nationally televised forum Sunday in Los Angeles.

A Kucinich campaign spokesman said it is inappropriate for anyone to discuss the idea of a nationally televised debate without all the candidates present.

“It is absolutely premature. We’ve gone from nine to six to five to four, and Dennis is not going to be the next to drop out. He is in this race to Boston,” Kucinich campaign spokesman Matt Harris said.

DNC officials would not comment on the matter except to say it is not their debate.

Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe called for candidates who did not do well in South Carolina to step down and repeated the request after primaries in Virginia and Tennessee. He predicted a year ago that the party would unite around one candidate by early spring.

But at a breakfast with reporters in September, Mr. McAuliffe said candidates who are willing to stand for the nomination have a right to participate in the debates.

Mr. Edwards has insisted on a two-man debate since his victory in the Feb. 3 South Carolina primary.

He said the American people haven’t had a sufficient opportunity to see how vastly different he and Mr. Kerry are on the issues — especially on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Mr. Edwards opposes and Mr. Kerry supports.

In an interview with CNN yesterday, Mr. Kerry said he is ready for a one-on-one showdown.

“I’ve always been. But let’s see where the schedule takes us. I’ve got to do what I need to do to run my own campaign. That’s what I’ve done from Day One and I intend to continue to do that,” he said.

But would anyone watch a debate between the two senators?

“A debate between Edwards and Kerry would be incredibly boring,” said David Swanson, the former communications director for the Kucinich campaign. “There is not a whole lot of difference between the guys.

“It could be interesting to force them to find something to disagree on, but their message is pretty much the same on taxes, jobs, votes on the war; where would you look?” he said.

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