Thursday, June 17, 2004

DETROIT — Democrat John Kerry might not be quite ready to pick Sen. John Edwards as his presidential running mate, but he’s already picking apart the North Carolina senator’s populist nomination campaign and using parts of it as his own.

Mr. Kerry is talking about optimism, keeping children close to home, the rising costs of college tuition and stopping the flow of jobs overseas — all staples of Mr. Edwards’ stump speech during the Democratic primary season.

Phrases from Mr. Kerry’s recent speeches are nearly identical to those of Mr. Edwards’ from earlier this year.

Although Mr. Kerry refuses to talk about the process for selecting a running mate, he and his staff seem to enjoy all the speculation and buzz about who it will be.

“I read with amusement about aides who don’t know what they’re talking about with respect to my schedule because I haven’t made a decision,” the candidate said in Detroit yesterday.

Mr. Kerry caused quite a stir among reporters traveling with him when he invited the Rev. Al Sharpton to travel on his campaign plane yesterday to appear and to help raise money in Detroit, where Mr. Sharpton did very well in the primaries.

“We’ve talked,” said Mr. Sharpton when asked whether he was under consideration for the vice-presidential slot. “And I’m sure he and I will talk more today.”

Mr. Kerry was in Washington on Wednesday afternoon and spent time meeting with lawmakers in his hideaway, the small office that most senior senators have in the Capitol.

The Kerry campaign has tried to keep a tight lid on Mr. Kerry’s search, but the location of his hideaway — on the third floor, a few hundred paces from the Senate Press Gallery — made that seem futile. Mr. Kerry did meet with Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat and a former presidential candidate.

Meanwhile, the Hill newspaper reported that 22 members of the House have signed a letter asking Mr. Kerry to pick Mr. Edwards, a blow to Mr. Gephardt, who gave up his post as House Democratic leader to run for president.

But Mr. Edwards, the one-term Southern senator who finished second in the primary campaign, is the person most Democrats want as Mr. Kerry’s running mate.

A poll earlier this month showed that Democrats nationally preferred Mr. Edwards over the other possibilities for a vice-presidential candidate, and a Kerry-Edwards ticket has the best poll numbers against President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

One Democratic party official said he doubted that a Kerry-Edwards ticket because it would show Mr. Kerry bending to political pressure, an area where Mr. Kerry already is perceived as weak.

It turns out, however, that Mr. Kerry has diligently cannibalized some of the most resonant messages from Mr. Edwards’s campaign.

Mr. Edwards’ optimistic message about helping the American worker compete on an even playing field with those in other countries has become a cornerstone of Mr. Kerry’s campaign.

In his stump speeches, Mr. Kerry complains about the current economy, saying, “A rising tide is supposed to lift all boats, not just those of the captains” — an analogy Mr. Edwards routinely used to describe the Bush administration’s tax cuts.

“It is clear that when our president is someone who understands that a rising tide lifts all boats, America prospers and grows stronger,” Mr. Edwards said in a campaign swing through California in February. “And when our president is someone who believes that a rising tide is there only to get the yachts out of the harbor, then America suffers.”

Earlier this week, Mr. Kerry spoke of how people are forced by the economy to move around for work, sometimes leaving the homes where they were born and grew up. He spoke of people’s yearning to “work and live in a place where they grew up,” a cornerstone of Mr. Edwards’ campaign directed at rural Americans.

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report from Washington.

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