Kerry belittles Edwards, then takes it back
'I don't want to go that road'
John Kerry, left, and John Edwards have found themselves rising rapidly in recent polling ahead of Monday's Iowa caucuses.
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DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry took a swipe Sunday at rival Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, painting himself as the more mature and experienced of the two -- in exaggerated terms.
Asked by a young woman at an event at Des Moines Area Community College why she should vote for him and not for Edwards, the 60-year-old senator from Massachusetts talked about his experience and then said, "When I came home from Vietnam in 1969, I don't know if John Edwards was out of diapers then yet or not, I'm totally not sure. I don't know." He then appeared to re-think the issue, and said, "He was by then, it was earlier." (Main story: Candidates push Iowans to caucus Monday evening, Gallery: Candidates all smiles in 11th hour)
A few minutes later, Kerry appeared to regret the initial comment, saying, "I think the difference [between the candidates] is the level of preparedness and experience to be able to get the job done, and I truly don't want to be negative about anybody. (Audio Slide Show: Bill Schneider on what the Iowa outcome may mean)
"That comment I made was not meant to be negative. I don't want to go that road.
"I think that what's appropriate to recognize is he's a very talented person. I like him a great deal. He's running a great campaign, I respect that. You have to decide, in looking at the records between us, who do you think can stand up to George Bush? Who do you think has the capacity to convince the nation that we as Democrats have the ability to lead the world and make us safer? (Latest CNN Election Express Line dispatches)
"I believe I have those credentials. It's up to you to decide whether or not someone else does."
Immediately afterward, Kerry aide David Wade said the candidate's comment about diapers had been made in jest.
In fact, Edwards turned 16 in 1969. He is 50 years old.
Edwards quickly fired off a response. "I have tremendous respect for Senator Kerry's service to our country in Vietnam," he said in a written statement.
"The truth is, in 1969 my family spent a lot of time sitting around the kitchen table trying to figure out how to pay for me to go to college, as so many Iowa families do every day."
Kerry also accused the camp of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean of trying to "play games."
Earlier Sunday, Kerry told Fox News that the Dean camp was calling Kerry the undisputed front-runner in the caucuses, and that anything short of a victory in Monday's voting would be a setback.
"I think that's funny," Kerry responded. "We're just working very hard. There's always been three tickets out of Iowa. They're trying to raise expectations and play games."
Also Sunday, Kerry told CNN Correspondent Bill Hemmer that he was not paying attention to what the other candidates were saying.
"I'm running from one event to the other. All I know is that the New England Patriots are up 21-7 and that's good news." (CNN.com's interactive Election Calendar)