Democratic Hopefuls Score Bush
Trio of Candidates Assails Economy, Foreign Affairs
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 23, 2003; Page A05
The Democratic National Committee winter meeting ended yesterday with a new round of attacks on President Bush's stewardship of the economy and foreign policy, with Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) accusing the president of being "out of touch . . . out of tune" with middle-American families.
Edwards was one of three Democratic presidential candidates who addressed the final session of the three-day meeting that concluded on an upbeat note, as Democrats began to put their losses in last November's midterm elections behind them and looked toward the 2004 presidential campaign with growing enthusiasm, despite Bush's strong standing.
DNC Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe opened the session by describing an open letter from Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot calling for a cessation of the attacks on Bush by the Democrats, saying their rhetoric was wholly negative.
"It's negative all right," McAuliffe said. "Under Bush, we have a negative stock market, negative family income and negative job growth. If I were in their shoes, I wouldn't want to talk about it either."
That set the tone for the rest of the morning as Al Sharpton, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio) and finally Edwards picked up where four other presidential candidates left off Friday in going after the president as they sought to impress an audience of party officials who could play an influential role in shaping the race for the Democratic nomination.
Edwards, who has just four years' experience in elective office, presented himself as the small-town son of working-class parents and not a Washington insider. He called the president "a failure for the great middle class of America and everyone struggling to meet it" and vowed, if he becomes the nominee, to challenge the president as a defender of big donors, big corporations and special interests.
"If you want somebody who has spent their life fighting for average Americans, if you want somebody who will dig in, take hold and never let go, if you want somebody who will take this fight to George Bush's doorstep and then inside, I am your guy," Edwards said.
The White House already has attacked Edwards for his pre-Senate career as a trial lawyer who made millions in personal injury cases in North Carolina, but the candidate fired back at his GOP detractors, saying he is confident he can turn the criticism on its head in a campaign against the president.
To the enthusiastic cheers of his audience, Edwards challenged the president by saying, "I am proud of the children I represented. I am proud of the cases I won. And so, Mr. President, if you want to talk about the insider you fought for versus the kids and families that I fought for, here's my message to you, Mr. President: Bring it on."
At a gathering where opposition to Bush's Iraq policy ran high, Edwards trod lightly on his own support of the president and for disarming Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with military force, if necessary, and his vote in the Senate for the resolution giving Bush the authority to take action.
Edwards described his position in one paragraph, then moved quickly to questioning whether the administration would remain committed to rebuilding Iraq after a war, which he said would be necessary to regain the respect of countries around the world. "Your family is safer and more secure in a world where America is looked up to and respected, than in a world where America is hated," he said.
In contrast to Edwards, Sharpton and Kucinich sharply attacked Bush's Iraq policy. Sharpton accused the president of shifting focus from the war on terrorism to a possible war against Hussein to disguise his failure to capture or kill terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, whose al Qaeda network was responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Pointing to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's recent presentation of U.S. intelligence about the Iraqi weapons program, Sharpton said, "I don't understand why our intelligence can tape conversations in Baghdad but can't find a man hiding in a cave in Afghanistan."
Sharpton said Bush's Iraq policy means domestic priorities are being ignored, and said the president's proposed tax cuts should be scrapped in favor of federal investment in the infrastructure of the country.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company