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Wooing the middle class

Sen. Edwards pitches new tax cuts

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- While President Bush predicted "better days ahead" for the American economy in a speech in Northern Virginia Tuesday, Sen. John Edwards, D-North Carolina, tried to gain some traction on the economy in a speech to at Georgetown University.

Aiming to reach out to middle-class voters and to fend off attacks from Republicans portraying Democrats as the party of high taxes, Edwards, a 2004 presidential candidate, proposed $160 billion in tax cuts over 10 years aimed at working families.

Edwards wants to boost investment and savings by reducing tax rates on capital gains taxes for certain middle-income tax brackets. He proposes a tax credit (up to $5,000) for first time home buyers and wants the federal government to match contributions to retirement accounts for Americans with incomes less than $50,000.

Edwards, appearing on CNN's "Inside Politics" contrasted the president's agenda with his approach. Bush's plan "values wealth over work," he said.

Edwards would pay for his tax cuts by rolling back the Bush income tax rate cuts on the wealthiest Americans. He also wants to repeal the cuts in dividend and capital gains taxes most recently signed into law by the president.

Responding to criticism that rolling back these tax cuts is raising taxes, Edwards countered," Actually, what I'm doing is cutting taxes for the vast majority of Americans. Over 95 percent of Americans' taxes will be cut under my plan."

Edwards raised more money than his eight Democratic rivals in the first quarter of 2003, but he trails badly in national polls and polls in key primary states -- posting single digits. Edwards told me he's not worried.

"We have a clear plan...and disciplined plan," he said. "And I am completely confident in our long-term strategy.... The numbers will start to move."

Edwards said he's not surprised that President Bush is having an easier time raising money for his re-election campaign. On Tuesday night, the president kicked off his fund-raising efforts for 2004 with a $2,000-a-plate dinner in Washington. Some predict the president will raise $200 million for the primary season.

"It's not a shock that a president who has consistently tried to move the country toward a place where wealth and the income from wealth is not taxed at all, and that burden is shifted to working people who can't afford to make big campaign contributions, it wouldn't be shocking that he is going to be able to raise a lot of money from those people," Edwards said.

As Bush kicks off an intense fund-raising tour this week, it's an uphill battle for Edwards and his fellow Democratic rivals to attract the attention on policy proposals or match the money the president will deposit for his 2004 campaign.

Judy Woodruff is CNN's prime anchor and senior correspondent. She also anchors "Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics," weekdays at 3:30 pm ET.

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