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Inside Politics

Dems to debate ahead of 'Super Tuesday'

Bill Clinton: 'Step forward right now and help'

Clockwise from upper left, John Kerry, John Edwards, Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich are to appear in a CNN-Los Angeles Times debate at 9 p.m. ET Thursday.
Clockwise from upper left, John Kerry, John Edwards, Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich are to appear in a CNN-Los Angeles Times debate at 9 p.m. ET Thursday.

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Stay with CNN-USA for updates and analysis of the candidates and issues in the run-up to the "Super Tuesday" March 2 primary contest in 10 states.
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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
John F. Kerry
John Edwards
Democratic candidates
America Votes 2004

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The four remaining Democratic presidential hopefuls will square off Thursday in advance of next week's "Super Tuesday" showdown.

Voters in 10 states will decide how the candidates will divvy up a bonanza of 1,151 delegates.

Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and the Rev. Al Sharpton, a New York civil rights activist, will meet Thursday in Los Angeles in a debate sponsored by CNN and the Los Angeles Times.

Polls show Democratic front-runner Kerry with strong leads over Edwards, his closest rival, in the four largest states holding primaries next week.

The latest Field Poll in California showed Kerry with a 40-point lead over Edwards in the Golden State. Surveys by the American Research Group put Kerry ahead of Edwards by 30 points in New York and 20 points in Ohio, while the margin of his lead in Georgia was by eight points.

Kerry will also pick up an endorsement next week from Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, Democratic sources told CNN Thursday.

Graham's name is frequently mentioned as a possible running mate for the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee because of his political base in a key swing state that President Bush carried by just 537 votes in 2000. He said last week that he would accept the No. 2 spot if offered.

Edwards counting on late surge again

Still, Edwards struck a note of optimism while campaigning Wednesday in California, reminding reporters how he surged from behind in earlier contests.

"It's clear to me from all these events I'm having that voters want this choice between John Edwards and John Kerry," Edwards said. "What I've seen happen everywhere we've gone is that there's been a powerful response and surge in the last few days before a primary takes place."

Last week in Wisconsin, pre-election polls showed Edwards anywhere from 20 to 35 points behind Kerry. In the end, the senator from Massachusetts still won, by six points, as Edwards made a late charge.

In addition to California, New York, Ohio and Georgia, five other states will have primaries Tuesday -- Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont. Minnesota will be holding caucuses. ('s interactive Election Calendar)

Kerry -- fresh from winning contests Tuesday night in Idaho, Utah and Hawaii -- campaigned Wednesday in Ohio, where he picked up the endorsement of one of the state's political icons, former Sen. John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth. (Full results: America Votes 2004)

"If ever a cup was running over, mine is running over," Kerry told a crowd in Toledo.

He said he was thrilled by his strong showings in this week's contests but added, "We've got a lot of work ahead of us, a lot of campaigning to do."

As they scrambled for any available advantage in the Super Tuesday states, Kerry and Edwards were lobbying supporters of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who has suspended his campaign.

Edwards said he has met with the leaders of the Dean campaign in Ohio and Minnesota and that he's continued to talk periodically to former governor.

After leaving Ohio, Kerry traveled to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he met with about 30 Dean supporters, trying to encourage them to caucus for him Tuesday. But privately, a Kerry aide conceded Edwards has a advantage in trying to lure Dean voters, particularly in Minnesota.

Meanwhile, Kucinich was celebrating his best showing in the campaign so far. In Tuesday's Hawaii caucuses, he snagged 30 percent of the vote for a second-place finish, behind Kerry but far ahead of Edwards.

While pundits and political experts have been casting the race as a two-man showdown between Kerry and Edwards, the Kucinich campaign released a statement pointedly noting that he has finished ahead of Edwards in three states.

The American Research Group poll also found Kucinich, the former mayor of Cleveland, with 11 percent support in his home state of Ohio.

Clinton makes fund-raising plea

In another development Wednesday, former President Bill Clinton made a rare foray into the presidential campaign, putting his name on an e-mail fund-raising appeal for the Democratic National Committee

"Every Democrat from every corner of our party has to step forward right now and help," Clinton said. "There can be no waiting, no hesitation, no thinking that preparing for the general election is something we can get around to once we know who will be our nominee.

"The Republican National Committee isn't waiting. They're stockpiling tens of millions of dollars with only one purpose in mind -- to deliver a devastating political blow to our nominee as soon as one is chosen."

Clinton has not endorsed any of this year's Democratic candidates, although many prominent figures associated with his administration and past campaigns were involved in the unsuccessful bid of retired Gen. Wesley Clark.

In his e-mail, Clinton indicated that no primary endorsement would be forthcoming, saying that "some of us have chosen to focus all of our attention on preparing the party for November."

CNN's Justin Dial and Kelly Wallace contributed to this report.

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