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Edwards slams Dean again for Confederate remark

Sen. John Edwards talks Sunday to the media after appearing on NBC's
Sen. John Edwards talks Sunday to the media after appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press."

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(CNN) -- Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards called rival Howard Dean's Confederate flag remark elitist, and Edwards, Rep. Dick Gephardt and Sen. John Kerry criticized Dean's decision to opt out of public campaign financing.

"I like him personally," Edwards said of his front-running rival on NBC's "Meet the Press," but added "He and I have had some run-ins over the last couple of weeks."

Edwards slammed Dean at the CNN's "Rock the Vote" forum last week, decrying his remark that the former Vermont governor wanted white people who have Confederate flags on their pickup trucks to return to the Democratic Party. He repeated his criticism during the "Meet the Press" interview.

Dean, who has since apologized for the remark, said he was trying to state his intention to make the party more inclusive and bring poor Southern whites back from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party.

But Democratic rivals, like Edwards, seized on the comment as condescending and even accepting of people who are racists. He said he has talked personally to Dean about his concerns.

On "Meet the Press," Edwards said the flag is a "very divisive symbol" and it is wrong to stereotype Southerners.

"It's like saying to any group of voters ... you don't know what's best for you. We know what's best for you," Edwards said. "There's an elitism and condescension associated with that attitude that's enormously dangerous to us" and that voters want to be "treated with respect."

Public funding decision criticized

Edwards also said Dean's financing decision is sending the "wrong signal" to voters. Edwards said Dean said that earlier this year, he felt strongly about all candidates staying within the system, but now that it's "advantageous" to him, he's opting out. (Full story)

"If it's a matter of principle to operate within the campaign finance system, then we should stay within the campaign finance system and not deviate from that because a particular candidate, in this case Governor Dean, thinks it's to his advantage."

Edwards plans to stay within the campaign finance system.

President Bush has also said he would opt out of public campaign financing, and this is the first time candidates from both major parties have done so since the campaign financing law was enacted in 1976.

Gephardt, who is leading Howard Dean in a Des Moines Register poll of Iowans likely to vote in the January 19 caucuses, criticized Dean for supporting the NAFTA trade agreement and agreeing with Bush on Medicare cuts.

The only candidate not to participate in the "Rock the Vote" forum, Gephardt said Dean should have stayed with his original position on campaign financing.

"I'm going to stick with the system," Gephardt told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer." "Howard said before that he was going to stay with the system.

"Now when he found out that he could make a few more bucks, maybe, by forgoing the matching funds, he changed his position. You got to be consistent. You gotta stay with what you believe in and what you think is right. That's what I'm always going to do."

Kerry says he'll make a decision "over the next day or so" on whether to follow Dean in opting out of public financing, but criticized the former Vermont governor for making that decision.

"He took a position. He wrote to the Federal Election Commission, saying, 'I will obey by the law. I won't go out,' " Kerry told CBS' "Face the Nation." "He also said, only a few months ago, to all of us, before he was raising money, that he wouldn't go out and he thought it was a terrible thing if Democrats went out. Now he's changed his position."

Kerry said he doesn't think "President Bush's money was as intimidating as Governor Dean wants to believe it was, because it's mostly special-interest money."

"And I was perfectly prepared to run against that money, to point out to Americans why they don't have health care, why they don't have prescription-drug coverage, why we can't get money for our schools. And I thought that the Bush money told a remarkable story about the politics of our nation."

According to a Newsweek poll, among contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is leading.

Sixteen percent of Democratic voters and those who lean Democratic said Dean is their first choice, while 15 percent said retired Gen. Wesley Clark is their first choice.

U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt was third with 9 percent, followed by Sen. Joe Lieberman at 8 percent, Sen. John Kerry and Carole Moseley-Braun, a former senator, with 7 percent, Sen. John Edwards at 6 percent, activist Al Sharpton with 4 percent and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich at 2 percent.

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