- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

From combined dispatches

ALBANY, Ga. — Sen. John Edwards courted former presidential rival Howard Dean, Mr. Dean’s supporters and would-be backers of Ralph Nader yesterday as he sought to close the gap with front-runner Sen. John Kerry.

Mr. Edwards, of North Carolina, pressed his campaign in areas suffering as a result of free trade, drawing distinctions with Mr. Kerry by emphasizing his own humble origins as the son of a mill worker whose plant was forced to close.

“I’ve lived with this all my life,” Mr. Edwards told an overflow crowd of hundreds in a train depot, as whistles wailed in the background.

He sounded the same theme earlier in the day in New York City, when he told garment workers at a union hall that in the effort to restore lost American jobs, “I take this personally.”

Meanwhile, in New York, Mr. Kerry said yesterday that Democrats had President Bush “on the run” and had forced the Republican to start his re-election campaign even before he knew who his opponent would be.

The four-term Massachusetts senator and decorated Vietnam War veteran also renewed his criticism of Republicans “who never fought in a war” but think they have “a leg up” over Democrats on defense.

Mr. Kerry defended his record, saying he had voted for the biggest Pentagon and intelligence budgets in U.S. history, but had also challenged President Reagan’s anti-missile defense, as well as some weapons systems like the MX missile.

He said the Republicans’ underlying message was that he was weak on defense.

“That’s the game they play,” he told reporters. “They haven’t come to you and said, ‘We need this [weapons] system and John Kerry voted against the system.’ They’re saying he voted against defense … and I’m not going to let them nickel and dime us on one system or another that was an individual vote.”

Mr. Kerry also acknowledged the race for the Democratic presidential nomination was not over despite his 15 victories in 17 primaries and caucuses so far.

Mr. Edwards, who finished second in Wisconsin last week, has mounted an all-out effort to cut into Kerry’s lead when 10 states, including New York, California, Ohio and Georgia, hold contests March 2.

But Mr. Kerry remains the favorite with money, momentum and about one-quarter of the 2,162 delegates needed to win the nomination and face Mr. Bush Nov. 2. He will start advertising in three “Super Tuesday” states — Georgia, Ohio and upstate New York — this week.

In the search for votes, Mr. Edwards said at a news conference in New York that he had talked to Mr. Dean several times since his withdrawal from the race and had asked for his support. Mr. Dean offered no specific commitment, Mr. Edwards said.

Mr. Dean has encouraged his backers to vote for him in upcoming contests, even though he’s no longer in the race, so he’ll have more delegates to take to the Democratic convention this summer in Boston.

Still, Mr. Edwards said he was picking up support from much of Mr. Dean’s organization and former supporters in states that vote March 2, particularly in Ohio and New York. His campaign released statements of support from former Dean supporters, including leaders of several student groups.

Mr. Edwards also encouraged voters who might be considering independent candidate Mr. Nader to vote for him instead. He said both he and Mr. Nader, who entered the race Sunday, were high on consumer protection and “fighting for the little guy.”

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