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Inside Politics

Candidates take aim at Bush, special interests

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards on the campaign trail.
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards on the campaign trail.

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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
John Edwards
George W. Bush
Democratic Party

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (CNN) -- Just days before the January 19 Iowa caucuses, the first referendum of the 2004 presidential campaign, Democratic candidates were criticizing President Bush, special interests and health-care coverage.

During a dinner speech Saturday in Linn County, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina painted himself as a populist who would unify a country that he said was divided in two -- "One for those who have privilege and power -- get absolutely anything they need, anytime they want it -- and then there's one for everybody else."

He called for a single health care system -- not "one for those who can afford the best health care" and a separate one that provides care "rationed out by insurance companies, drug companies, HMOs, by the government," Edwards said.

And he called for a single tax system, not "one for those who can afford accountants and lawyers" and another for the rest of America.

Edwards decried the fact that 35 million Americans live in poverty, and said their plight "is one of the great moral issues" that he would address as president, by raising the minimum wage.

"It's not an economic issue, it's the difference between right and wrong," Edwards said.

Iowa's largest newspaper announced Sunday it was endorsing Edwards as its choice in the presidential race. (Full story)

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts also focused on the role of special interests that he said have been allowed to dominate the choices of Americans "in a marketplace increasingly dominated by a president who licenses a creed of greed."

Kerry said, "The one person in the United States who deserves to be laid off is George W. Bush, and that's exactly what we're going to do."

He told the residents of the agricultural state that the U.S. Department of Agriculture "remains sort of a subsidiary of agribusiness."

Kerry accused Bush of "giving the working people in America the rawest deal of modern times."

The recovery has disproportionately helped Republicans who own stock, but working-class people have seen their incomes drop by about $1,500 in the last few years, Kerry said.

Earlier Saturday, Kerry took a shot at rival Democrat and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean during a stop in Davenport, Iowa. (Full story)

Dean, the front-runner, said that all children in his state now have heath-care coverage and a third of the senior citizens have prescription drug coverage in a state with a balanced budget.

Dean -- a physician -- decried the Medicare plan passed by the Republican Congress and signed by the president as a gift to health insurers and pharmaceutical companies.

Under the plan, "If you spend $50 a month on drugs, you get a little help. But if you spend $200 a month on drugs, they cut your help off. You can't go to Canada to get cheaper drugs any more."

The $400 billion cost of the bill has been "charged to our grandchildren. This is the borrow-and-spend credit card presidency ... you can't trust Republicans with your money."

Regarding the continuing U.S. occupation of Iraq, he said, "I will never send troops without first telling the American people the truth about why it is they're going."

He added, "In order to defend the United States of America, you have to have high moral purpose and a set of ideals that the rest of the world admires and aspires to."

Kucinich rants against Iraq war

Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio vowed to take the party "in a decidedly different direction -- away from war, away from health care for profit, away from global trade which leaves out workers and human rights and the environment, away from an allocation of our resources which sends tax cuts to the wealthy, creates a military buildup and wastes the resources of this country on war."

Kucinich said the U.S. presence in Iraq "will deprive this country of the resources we need," and urged an immediate pullout.

"I stand alone among all the candidates in the Iowa caucuses calling for an exit strategy which would quickly bring our troops home."

Forgoing Iowa, former NATO Supreme Commander Gen. Wesley Clark, New York civil rights activist Al Sharpton and Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut have focused more on the New Hampshire leg of the campaign, where the nation's first primary is scheduled for January 27.

National poll: Dean leads Gephardt, Clark

Dean continues to hold the presumed lead among Democrats in national polls.

In a Newsweek poll released Saturday, Dean drew support from 24 percent of respondents who were registered Democrats or leaned toward the Democratic Party. Clark and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt follow with 12 percent each.

Kerry was favored by 11 percent of respondents, up 5 percentage points from December. Lieberman received support from 7 percent of the group.

The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points in either direction.

The results follow a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released earlier in the week that shows Dean with the most support, at 24 percentage points. Clark was in second place with 20 percent in that poll.

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