Image: Edwards, Schulte
Edwards visits with Joyce Schulte during an appearance at a breakfast for the Iowa Democratic Party Minority Caucuses on Sunday in Des Moines.
updated 12/12/2003 2:53:54 PM ET 2003-12-12T19:53:54

Toiling in Howard Dean’s political shadow, Democratic presidential rival John Edwards said Friday he’s offering voters a campaign of optimism, inclusion and substance — a far cry, he suggests, from the fiery rhetoric and partisanship that have fueled the front-runner’s ascent.

“If all we are in 2004 is a party of anger, we can’t win,” Edwards said in remarks prepared for delivery Friday to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

“If all we are is divisive and angry and if all we do is attack President Bush and each other, then we will not win the White House in 2004,” he said in a speech that aides billed as a critique of Dean’s campaign methods. “And we won’t deserve to.”

The address is the latest in a series of salvos aimed at Dean since former Vice President Al Gore endorsed his candidacy, adding momentum to a campaign that was already leading in key state polls. Private surveys conducted by the campaigns show Dean making huge initial gains in Iowa, and campaign strategists say they suspect he will get at least a short-term boost in national polls.

No mention of Dean by name
Without mentioning Dean by name, Edwards picked apart the former Vermont governor’s perceived political advantages: His appeal to liberal voters and landmark use of the Internet.
“We hear a lot about which candidate can engage the most partisans in December of 2003, and that’s important. But what’s more important is which candidate will help the most Americans, because that’s what matters in November 2004,” Edwards said.

“It’s great to engage people through the Internet, but we need to make sure we reach every American: not just those who can afford a computer, but those who can’t and those who have no interest in signing up in any campaign. People like that matter, too,” he said.

The North Carolina senator led the criticism against Dean when the former Vermont governor said he wanted to court Southern Democrats who drive around with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks. Dean has promised to change the subject to health care, education or jobs when Republicans try to criticism him on abortion, gay rights or other social issues.

No compromise on 'values debate'
“I will never cede this values debate to the Republicans,” he said. “Some in my party want to duck the values debate. They want to say to America: ‘We’re not interested in your values; we want to change the subject to anything else.’ That’s wrong. You can’t tell voters what to believe or what to vote on.”

Though he challenged Dean over the Confederate flag, Edwards has been one of the least critical candidates when it comes to his Democratic rivals. In a speech titled “Defense of Optimism,” he said Americans want a president who reflects their positive, productive viewpoints.

“The American people know that their best days are in front of us. They want a president who believes that too,” he said.

Promising a “contest of ideas” — a phrase borrowed from former President Clinton — Edwards said he supported tax cuts for the middle class and a ban on political donations from lobbyists.

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