Kerry: 'We voted for the China trade agreement'
The U. S. Democratic presidential race narrowed to a two-man show between front-runner John Kerry and challenger John Edwards on Wednesday, with Howard Dean ending his faltering bid.
Dean, the former front-runner whose high-flying campaign collapsed in Iowa and never righted itself, dropped his White House bid but promised supporters that "our campaign for change is not over."
Dean finished a distant third place in Wisconsin behind Kerry and Edwards, the North Carolina senator whose surprisingly strong showing pumped new life into the race to find a Democratic challenger to President Bush.
"The voters in Wisconsin and the voters around the country are looking for a debate," Edwards, who had been hoping for weeks to maneuver into a one-on-one showdown with Kerry, told reporters on Wednesday.
Kerry, still the prohibitive favorite in the race after winning 15 of the first 17 contests, brushed off suggestions that Edwards was making inroads in the race by pointing out their differences on trade.
"We have the same policy on trade. Exactly the same policy," said Kerry, who has been criticized by Edwards for supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement. "We both voted for the China trade agreement."
The Massachusetts senator also rejected suggestions that Edwards' working class roots gave him a better understanding of what it was like to lose a job.
"If where you come from was a qualification for president, we'd never have had Franklin Roosevelt or John Kennedy," he said.
Kerry, on a visit to Ohio to push his plan for jobs creation, kept up his criticism of Bush's economic leadership.
"Apparently George Bush is the only person left in the country who actually believes the far-fetched promises he's peddling," Kerry said at a town hall meeting, ridiculing claims by the Bush administration that 2.6 million new jobs will be created this year.
KERRY WON'T CHANGE CAMPAIGN
Kerry said he would not change his front-running campaign to deal with the threat from Edwards, who has won only one state, South Carolina, in the presidential race.
"I intend to do exactly what I've been doing all along," Kerry told reporters in Dayton, Ohio.
Edwards pointed to his strong showing among independents and Republicans in Wisconsin, who were allowed to vote in the primary, and said it reinforced his argument that he was the candidate with the best shot at ousting Bush in November.
"It's clear that my campaign is attracting independent voters, Reagan Democrats, the kind of people that we have to win in the fall to win the general election," Edwards said in a conference call with reporters before heading to New York for a fund-raiser.
Edwards expects to make a strong push for votes in New York, Ohio, Georgia, Maryland and Minnesota, all hit hard by manufacturing job losses where his message of job creation and economic revival could resonate.
Aides said Edwards had raised more than $300,000 on the Internet since his second-place showing in Wisconsin, six percentage points behind Kerry. Edwards has raised nearly $4 million since his second-place showing in Iowa in January, aides said.
Both Edwards and Kerry praised Dean for invigorating Democratic activists and helping shape the party's presidential race with his blunt criticism of Bush and the war in Iraq.
"We have demonstrated to other Democrats that it is a far better strategy to stand up against the right-wing agenda of George W. Bush than it is to cooperate with it," Dean told cheering supporters in Burlington, Vermont.
The former governor of Vermont broke fund-raising records last year and opened a big lead in the polls before his January collapse. Dean, who had said Wisconsin would be a make-or-break state for his campaign, promised he would not pursue an independent or third-party bid for the White House.
He said he would use "our enormous grass-roots network to continue the effort to transform the Democratic Party and to change our country."
He added: "The bottom line is we must beat George Bush in November."