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Inside Politics

Edwards campaign book details attacks

North Carolina senator says he didn't know about it

From John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

Top four in New Hampshire: Clark, Dean, Kerry, Edwards, clockwise from top left.
Top four in New Hampshire: Clark, Dean, Kerry, Edwards, clockwise from top left.

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MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- Despite being credited with breathing life into his presidential bid by pushing positive themes, Sen. John Edwards' campaign circulated a confidential briefing book earlier this month that instructed supporters on how to attack his Democratic rivals during the Iowa caucuses.

The nearly 50-page document, of which CNN obtained 10 pages, tells his campaign captains in Iowa precincts to describe former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean as an "elitist from Park Avenue in New York City."

And it says Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts "can't claim to change America because he has been part of the failed Washington politics for too long."

Edwards told reporters in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he did not know about the book.

"I found out about it tonight for the first time, and I take full responsibility for anything that happened in my campaign," he said. "It's wrong, and I have given them instructions it is not ever to happen again."

The document offers a particularly detailed critique of Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, the former House minority leader who withdrew from the presidential race after his following a fourth-place finish in Iowa.

Under Gephardt's leadership, the document says, House Democrats "lost control of Congress in 1994, and lost four more times since then. ... We can't afford another losing national campaign against George W. Bush and the Republicans."

It adds, "Even if Gephardt somehow wins in Iowa, his campaign is eventually dead, just as it was in 1988."

Six of the pages are called "fact checks" on Dean, Gephardt, Kerry and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark -- who did not campaign in Iowa -- that charges them with making false claims about their records.

Asked why Edwards' signature appears prominently at the top of the document next to his typewritten name, Edwards campaign communications director David Ginsberg said the pages are part of a 50-page training booklet and that parts should not be taken out of context.

"The booklet has positive stuff in it," including an outline of Edwards' stands on issues and an explanation of how the caucus system works, Ginsberg said.

"This was something given to our field people who were under attack and needed to defend themselves against all this baseless phone calls and negative mail they were receiving from other candidates," he said.

Clark and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who also did not compete in Iowa, were not heavily targeted in the book, although it notes that Clark "has never won an election to anything" and says Lieberman "has supported the Bush position on too many issues ... to present a clear choice."

The Edwards campaign did spare Dennis Kucinich in the book, instead heaping praise on the Ohio congressman.

Before the caucuses, Edwards and Kucinich said they agreed to a deal whereby Kucinich supporters would back Edwards if they were unable to solidify a certain level of support, known as "viability," within each caucus meeting.

"Senator Edwards has a lot of respect for Dennis Kucinich and the passion he brings to this race," the book reads. "They both have a record of fighting for working families.

The "fact check" section claims Dean "failed to admit he balanced the budget by cutting key services. ... Dean balanced the budget on the backs of the poor and sick, by cutting public campaign financing and using budget gimmicks."

The Kerry "fact check," titled "Another Kerry Exaggeration," says the senator under-reported the cost of his health care plan. It also criticizes Kerry's labor, trade and environmental voting records.

The Gephardt "fact check" criticizes the congressman's health care plan, saying Gephardt had "acknowledged that companies might not pass on tax savings," as he has claimed they would.

The book also claims Clark "undersold" his past praise for President Bush's national security team.

Edwards campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said the fact checks are no different from documents all campaigns distribute at debates.

"When he has policy differences, he stands up and says so, he thinks that's a relevant part of the debate," she said.

In numerous interviews, the North Carolina senator has said his surprise second-place showing in Iowa was a direct result of a campaign he repeatedly described as "positive."

"I think it's a response to the positive, optimistic message of hope, and talking about changing America in a fundamental way," Edwards said Tuesday on CNN's "American Morning."

"It is a direct response to what people are hungry for, which is somebody who will give them a clear, positive vision for the country."

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