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Edwards Courts Minnesotans

Candidate Seeking Support From Dean Backers in State

By John F. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 28, 2004; Page A09

ST. PAUL, Minn., Feb. 27 -- Returning to Minnesota on Friday for his second visit in a week, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) predicted "big movement" in the state, based in part on support from former backers of ex-candidate Howard Dean.

Both Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, have spent considerable time here, though his strategists were considerably more cautious than the presidential candidate in predicting anything better than a respectable showing. Independent analysts have said a win remains unlikely.

Minnesota is one of the 10 states voting in next week's Super Tuesday contest. But because it is a caucus state, not a primary state, polling is unreliable. Edwards aides said only about 15,000 to 20,000 people are expected to participate statewide in Tuesday's caucuses.

There are indications that Edwards is tapping into a vein of Dean supporters who are not ready to embrace the front-runner, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.). At a meeting here Thursday night, two-thirds of the former Vermont governor's state leaders and volunteers voted to shift their support to Edwards, according to the Edwards campaign.

On Saturday afternoon, Edwards is to hold a conference call with leading Dean organizers in a dozen states, including New York and Minnesota.

Meeting with reporters after a rally at Hamline University in St. Paul, Edwards said he has spoken "several times" recently with Dean but has not gotten any indication that the endorsement he is hoping for is imminent.

Even so, Edwards said, "the addition of the Dean supporters is a huge thing," and an indication that "my campaign is about grass-roots change for this country.

"My sense is that there's a big movement going on here in Minnesota. I sense movement in Ohio and Georgia," he said. Edwards was headed to Augusta, Ga., later Friday evening. He is running television advertisements only in Georgia, Ohio and Upstate New York.

The candidate repeated his standard stump speech to students here. Although the crowd was enthusiastic, it was well shy in both size and energy compared with an overflow union audience in St. Paul last Saturday.

Also Friday, Edwards rejected a call from the public-interest group Center for Responsive Politics that he disclose the "bundlers" who have assembled large contributions. He said his support is "grass-roots" and did not acknowledge that he had such bundlers among his financial base, which relies heavily on trial lawyers. Edwards was a prominent trial lawyer before being elected to the Senate.

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