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Kerry wins AFL-CIO endorsement

Edwards challenges Kerry to debate

John Kerry speaks Thursday in Washington after receiving the endorsement of the AFL-CIO.
John Kerry speaks Thursday in Washington after receiving the endorsement of the AFL-CIO.

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An interview with John Kerry -- fresh from his endorsement in Washington by the AFL-CIO -- highlights the Thursday edition of "Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics" at 3:30 p.m. ET.
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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
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- John Kerry won the endorsement Thursday of the largest U.S. labor organization as he scrambled to fend off his strongest remaining Democratic presidential rival, John Edwards.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney lauded Kerry's record in the Senate as he announced the endorsement of the labor federation, which represents more than 13 million workers.

"He will be our champion in the White House," Sweeney said.

An enthusiastic crowd cheered Kerry, as various speakers criticized the Bush administration on labor issues.

The four-term senator from Massachusetts vowed to "put America back on track" and said the Bush administration had failed American workers. He ridiculed Bush for the administration's retreat from an economic report that had predicted 2.6 million new jobs this year.(Full story)

"Every single year, George Bush has promised to create jobs," Kerry said. "And every year, he's ended up losing them."

The endorsement comes as Edwards, the senator from North Carolina, has stepped up his attacks on trade issues -- including Kerry's support for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Kerry supported and labor leaders opposed.

The only labor support Edwards has received was from the textile workers' union UNITE, but Edwards -- the son of a mill worker -- he said his unexpectedly close second-place finish to Kerry in Tuesday's Wisconsin primary shows he can win votes from union households.

Edwards was not in the Senate when NAFTA was passed in 1993. Kerry, noted that both he and Edwards supported the normalization of trade with China and said they have "exactly the same policy" on trade issues.

"He voted for the China Trade Agreement; so did I," Kerry told reporters Wednesday. "And we both want to have labor agreements and environment agreements as part of any trade deal."

Utah holds a primary and Idaho and Hawaii hold caucuses Tuesday. But Kerry and Edwards are focusing on the following week's "Super Tuesday" states, in which a total 1,151 delegates will be up for grabs -- more than half the 2,162 needed to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination. ('s interactive Election Calendar)

New York state of mind

Edwards is campaigning heavily in New York over the next several days.

Speaking to an audience at Columbia University on Thursday, Edwards challenged Kerry to debate him before Super Tuesday.('s interactive look at Primary Results to date)

"We should debate wherever and whenever," Edwards said. "I will come to New York. I will go to California. I will go anywhere in America ... Democrats deserve this choice."

In his speech in New York, Edwards -- whose campaign has gotten new wind after Wisconsin -- hit hard on trade, a key issue that exit polls showed helped him gain a last-minute surge in the Badger State.

He criticized trade deals that allow companies to cut wages and move jobs overseas, paying people "pennies a day." And he said the United States should never allow companies to export jobs and "allow children to make their product. It's wrong."

Kerry, meanwhile, has added campaign stops in New York and Georgia, two of the 10 "Super Tuesday" states holding primaries or caucuses March 2, after Edwards' stronger-than expected showing in Tuesday's Wisconsin primary.

"The schedule changed because of a tight primary schedule and the need to hit as many states as possible," a Kerry adviser explained Wednesday night.

Kerry also picked up the endorsement of Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a prominent civil right leader, who announced his support in Atlanta with the candidate's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, at his side.

Kerry has racked up 613 delegates after winning 16 of the 18 Democratic contests to date. Edwards, who has won only in his native state of South Carolina, has 192. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who dropped out of the race Wednesday, claimed 202 delegates despite failing to win a single contest.('s interactive Delegate Scorecard)

Dean did not indicate if he would endorse a candidate in the primaries, but pledged to back the party's eventual nominee and urged his supporters to do the same.

The one-time front-runner suspended his campaign, but his name will remain on the ballot for coming contests. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York also remain in the race, but neither has broken into double digits in national polls.

CNN's Kelly Wallace and Phil Hirschkorn contributed to this report.

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