Video: John Edwards plays Hardball
updated 7/17/2007 7:16:45 PM ET 2007-07-17T23:16:45

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards renewed his call Tuesday for smaller, more substantive candidate forums, agreeing to MSNBC’s invitation to debate Sen. Hillary Clinton and Rep. Dennis Kucinich on live television.

Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina and the Democrats’ vice presidential candidate in 2004, and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., were captured on open microphones criticizing Kucinich, D-Ohio, by name after an NAACP candidates forum last week.

Edwards was recorded by several news organizations telling Clinton that “we should try to have a more serious … smaller group,” to which Clinton replied, “We’ve got to cut the number.”

“Our guys should talk,” Clinton added, handing ammunition to critics who accused her and Edwards of colluding to freeze out lesser-known Democrats like Kucinich and former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska.

Edwards: Don’t exclude the little guys
The comments reflected a perennial complaint of high-profile campaigns that minor candidates distract attention from candidates with a legitimate shot to win, but Edwards explained in an interview on MSNBC’s “Hardball” on Tuesday that he did not mean to suggest that less visible candidates should be excluded from the Democratic forums.

Instead, he said that the large forums involving all of the Democratic candidates at once were unwieldy and that a better way to explore issues in depth should be found.

“I think it’s just the nature of having a lot of candidates,” Edwards said. “The hard thing ... is trying to find a way to not have this be a sound-bite debate.”

Edwards accepted host Chris Matthews’ challenge to face off with Clinton and Kucinich on “Hardball,” but only if the show would arrange similar small discussions that included the rest of the Democratic field.

“Any way we can have a more serious discussion with smaller groups, I am happy to participate in,” he said.

Edwards backs wife’s criticism of Clinton
Edwards has proposed convening a series of smaller rotating debates among two or three candidates, echoing a proposal his wife, Elizabeth, made Tuesday in an interview with

John Edwards also defended controversial comments his wife made about Clinton, the Democratic front-runner. Elizabeth Edwards said in the Salon interview that Clinton was “not as vocal a women’s advocate as I want to see” while urging women to “support me because I’m a woman.”

“I think one of the things that make me so completely comfortable with this is that keeping that door open to women is actually more a policy of John’s than Hillary’s,” she was quoted as having said.

John Edwards first joked, “Well, I think it’s not shocking that she’s for me.” Then he added: “If you look at things like poverty, there are more women in poverty than there are men; there are more women without health insurance than men. ...

“These are subjects that have a direct impact on the lives of women. I’ve been out front on a lot of those issues. I think that’s what she meant,” he added.

Poverty takes center stage in campaign
Edwards’ invoking poverty was no accident. He spoke to MSNBC by satellite from Pittsburgh, a stop on what the campaign calls the “Road to One America Tour” to call attention to poverty in impoverished cities and towns.

“I think America will respond, and we’ve seen already — I’ve been at this for about a day and half now, starting in New Orleans, up through Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Ohio and now Pittsburgh — that there’s a lot of attention and will,” he said on “Hardball.”

“I really believe there’s a will in the country to do something about this, but someone’s got to tap into that will,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday, in Cleveland, the nation's poorest big city, Edwards called for a national law to crack down on predatory lending, saying that without national regulations, lenders who offer high-priced loans were allowed to prey on those with poor credit or low incomes.

By Alex Johnson of


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