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Inside Politics

Edwards: 'Ready for this fight'

Nader says he'll run again, this time as an independent

John Edwards signs autographs for supporters in Rochester, New York.
John Edwards signs autographs for supporters in Rochester, New York.

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Stay with CNN-USA for reactions and analysis all evening to the Ralph Nader candidacy -- and for live updates on the run-up to Tuesday's primary in Utah and caucuses in Hawaii and Idaho.
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CNN's Candy Crowley on Ralph Nader's announcement of a run for president.
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CNN's Kelly Wallace on John Kerry's challenge to President Bush for a debate.
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CNN's Dan Lothian on John Edwards' message about jobs and trade.
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Tuesday, February 24: Hawaii, Idaho Democratic caucuses; Utah primary

Sunday, February 29: Puerto Rico Republican primary

"Super Tuesday," March 2: Primaries in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Georgia; caucuses in Minnesota

When is your primary? For more key dates in the 2004 election season, see our special America Votes 2004 Election Calendar
Ralph Nader
Democratic candidates
Super Tuesday
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Even as announced third-party candidate Ralph Nader planned a Monday morning news conference, Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards predicted that Ohio and several Southern states would be battlegrounds in the November election.

Edwards told supporters that he's "ready for this fight."

Ohio is one of 10 states holding contests on "Super Tuesday" on March 2, the biggest single day on the Democratic nomination calendar, with 1,151 delegates up for grabs.

Three states -- Utah, Idaho and Hawaii -- hold contests Tuesday, but those events have largely been overshadowed by the 10 primaries and caucuses a week later.

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader said Sunday he would run for president as an independent this year. His news conference Monday is expected to include the Nader platform for 2004.

Nader, who will turn 70 this month, ran as a Green Party candidate in 1996 and 2000.

"After careful thought and my desire to retire our supremely selected president, I've decided to run as an independent candidate for president," Nader said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Edwards said Ohio, which President Bush carried in 2000, was one of a handful of the "most critical" states for Democrats in November.

"I think it represents in many ways the downfall of the Bush administration, which is the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in the state of Ohio as a result of their tax policies and their trade policies," Edwards said. "The people of Ohio will be looking for new leadership."

Edwards has made trade a main issue in his campaign, promising to end tax breaks for U.S. companies that move jobs overseas.

He said Democrats need to make inroads among voters in several Southern states they lost in 2000, including North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana and Georgia.

The one-term senator from North Carolina stumped at African-American churches in Columbus on Sunday morning and planned to meet with locked-out union workers at a titanium plant in Niles before capping the day at a Teamsters hall in Youngstown.

"I've been ready for this fight my whole life," he told students at Ohio State University. "You must give me a shot at George Bush. You give me a shot at George Bush, and I'll give you the White House."

Nader's announcement was widely watched by Democrats, many of whom blame him for siphoning off votes in Florida in the 2000 election that might have gone to Democratic nominee Al Gore, who lost the state and the overall election in a split decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The possibility of Nader allowing a Bush victory in 2004 by drawing votes from the left side of the political spectrum is troubling some Democrats.

Speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe called Nader's decision "very unfortunate." But he said he believes Nader's candidacy "will be different from 2000."

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie told CBS that Nader's candidacy would make no difference to Bush's re-election bid.

"If Ralph Nader runs, President Bush is going to be re-elected, and if Ralph Nader doesn't run, President Bush is going to be re-elected," Gillespie said. (More reaction to Nader's announcement)

Edwards, Kerry spar

Edwards and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic front-runner, sparred earlier in the day on ABC's "This Week" over their plans to expand federal health insurance.

Edwards said his plan is superior to Kerry's because, "His cost is dramatically higher than mine. I cover every single child," Edwards said. "In fact, I mandate that coverage. His does not."

Kerry disagreed. "He's dead wrong. The same people who helped me formulate my health care plan are the people who helped formulate the Clinton budget in the 1990s," Kerry said.

"We crunched the numbers. We've been careful to look at the health care plan so that it fits within the numbers that you get as you push back and roll back the Bush tax cut for wealthiest Americans."

Edwards and Kerry both targeted Bush on taxes.

Edwards said, "If you are listening to the sound of my voice and you earn less than $200,000, you will get a bigger tax break under an Edwards administration than you're presently getting under a Bush administration."

Kerry responded to Bush's claims that a Democratic president would raise taxes.

"When [Bush] says that Americans face a tax increase, once again he is not telling the truth," Kerry said.

"Only the wealthiest Americans will have any possibility of an increase in my proposal, and it's not really an increase. It's rolling it back to the place where it was when he became president."

Bush not ruling out debate

The Bush campaign is not ruling out the "face-to-face" debate requested Saturday in a letter from Kerry, a campaign official said Sunday.

"We look forward to vigorous debate on the important issues of the day with the eventual Democratic nominee," a Bush campaign official told CNN.

Kerry's letter challenged Bush to a debate on the impact of their experiences during the Vietnam War era on their current approaches to presidential leadership.

Kerry's letter said, "This is not a debate to be distorted through your $100 million dollar campaign fund. This is a debate that should be conducted face to face." (Full story)

CNN's Dan Lothian contributed to this report.

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