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KWAME HOLMAN: The four Democrats sat elbow to elbow before a panel of questioners led by Larry King. North Carolina Senator John Edwards hopes to close in on Massachusetts Senator John Kerry in next week’s Super Tuesday states. Last night, Edwards tried to highlight how he is different from Kerry.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: I’m saying he comes from a different background. He’s a good man. He’s a good candidate. He’d make a good president, and I’d be the first to say that. But we come from different places and we present different choices.
LARRY KING: Did you take any offense to that?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: None whatsoever. I think John has run a terrific campaign, and he and I are friends, and I don’t take offense at that, and I respect completely where John comes from and the story of his life.
KWAME HOLMAN: Edwards kept focused on his differences with Kerry, while Kerry noted similarities, as on the commitment to limit the power of Washington lobbyists.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: I also think we need to change the influence of Washington lobbyists. And that is the distinction, and it’s an important distinction, because I think these Washington lobbyists have entirely too much influence on what happens every day.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: John has raised almost 50 percent of his money from one group of people in the united states of America. Now, I don’t suggest ever…
LARRY KING: Is that the trial lawyers?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: That’s correct. I know he’s looking for some differences because you need them, but there’s not really a difference in this race between us in our commitment to get the lobbying out.
KWAME HOLMAN: Trade and U.S. job losses have been themes for both Edwards and Kerry. Edwards saw differences there as well.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: I voted against final fast- track authority for this president; senator Kerry voted for it. I voted against the Chilean trade agreement; he voted for it. I voted against the Singapore trade agreement; he voted for it. I voted against the African trade agreement; he voted for it. I voted against the Caribbean trade agreement; he voted for it. I wasn’t in the Congress when NAFTA was passed; he voted for it. But when I campaigned for the senate, I campaigned against it.
LARRY KING: Senator Kerry wants to respond because he seems shocked.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Well, I am surprised, because in his major speech on the economy in Georgetown this past June, John never even mentioned trade.
KWAME HOLMAN: Kerry, again, saw similarities between his positions and Edwards’.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: So I have said clearly for a number of years now we have to have labor and environment standards in all of our trade agreements. That is exactly the same position as John Edwards.
KWAME HOLMAN: Kerry consistently has focused his attacks on President Bush. When asked if the country is politically polarized, he cited the president’s recent call for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Look at what he did the other day with the constitutional amendment. He’s trying to divide America. ( Applause ) He’s trying to divide America… he is doing this because he’s in trouble. He’s trying to reach out to his base.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Reverend Al Sharpton jumped in.
REV. AL SHARPTON: Bush is trying to go from race-based with quotas in 2000 to gay-baiting in 2004. And all of us ought to be united that he does not scapegoat the gay and lesbian community like he did minorities four years ago.
KWAME HOLMAN: John Edwards favors the death penalty; John Kerry doesn’t. Larry King asked Kerry about the issue.
LARRY KING: A person who kills a five- year-old should live?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Larry, my instinct is to want to strangle that person with my own hands. I understand the instincts. I really do. But we have 111 people who have been now released from death row– death row, let alone the rest of the prison system — because of DNA evidence that showed they didn’t commit the crime of which they were convicted.
LARRY KING: Why do you favor capital punishment?
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: Because I think there are some crimes… those men who dragged James Byrd behind that truck in Texas, they deserve the death penalty. ( Applause ) and I think there are some crimes that deserve the ultimate punishment.
KWAME HOLMAN: Toward the end of the debate, both senators were asked about the idea of running together this fall.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: I think an Edwards-Kerry ticket would be powerful, and that’s the ticket that I think we should have.
LARRY KING: Are you saying now that if you get this nomination you will ask him to join you?
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: He certainly should be considered. He’s a very, very good candidate. ( Laughter )
SEN. JOHN KERRY: I want to thank him for the consideration. I appreciate it.
KWAME HOLMAN: For their part, congressman Dennis Kucinich and the Reverend Sharpton pledged to stay in the race. Kucinich explained his reasoning.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I’m here to provide the people of this country with a real choice in this election. Some of the differences that are here are stylistic. I’m offering some substantive change in this country.
KWAME HOLMAN: Sunday, the four candidates will debate once more in New York before the Super Tuesday votes.