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Kerry, Nader focus on common ground in meeting

Democratic operatives form group to blunt Nader's impact

Ralph Nader, left, meets with Sen. John Kerry in Washington on Wednesday.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader huddled for more than an hour Wednesday with Sen. John Kerry for discussions that both sides said focused on their common differences with President Bush.

But the two sides skirted thorny issues such as the future of Nader's candidacy and the war in Iraq.

Nader, in a statement afterward, said he also raised the issue "of increasing the number of presidential debates and including more voices in those debates."

A senior Kerry aide later said the presumptive Democratic nominee was non-committal on Nader's possible inclusion, noting that discussions about the debates have not begun.

In the last two presidential elections, Nader, as the candidate of the Green Party, was not invited to the debates.

Asked about his meeting with Nader as he arrived for dinner Wednesday night at a Washington hotel, Kerry smiled and responded, "Great time, thank you."

New ads

Meanwhile, CNN has learned that top Democratic operatives have formed an independent group, to try to blunt Nader's impact on the election.

The National Progress Fund plans to run TV ads in six battleground states, featuring people who voted for Nader in 2000 who now say they regret their votes.

"We're not attacking Ralph Nader," said Tricia Enright, Dean's former spokeswoman and a leader in the effort. "We may have differences, but we can agree on one thing -- George Bush is our biggest nightmare. ... Karl Rove's dream is to watch the Democrats and progressive Americans become divided."

The fund will focus its advertising firepower on six states that were decided by 2 percentage points or less in 2000 -- Florida, New Hampshire, Iowa, Oregon, Wisconsin and New Mexico. Bush carried the first two; Democrat Al Gore carried the latter four.

In his statement, Nader said the purpose of the 70-minute meeting, held at Kerry's campaign headquarters in Washington, "was to discuss issues of interest to the daily lives of the American public -- to put the focus on the human race, not the presidential horse race."

"People want positive politics demonstrating changes and reforms instead of the politics of personality and personal acrimony enveloped in sterile media forays about the tactics of the day."

The meeting between the two men was set up after Nader complained over the weekend that Kerry and his campaign were not returning his phone calls to set up a promised meeting.

After sitting down together Wednesday, both sides said they had agreed to, in Nader's words, "continue the dialogue," although the senior Kerry aide said no future meetings had been set.

'Corporate welfare'

Among the issues discussed, according to the Nader campaign, were ending "corporate welfare" for large corporations, strengthening the ability of non-union workers to organize and a crackdown on corporate crime.

The Kerry camp said campaign finance reform was also discussed, with Kerry touting his support of the McCain-Feingold bill and his refusal to take political action committee money in his four runs for the Senate.

However, the issue of whether Nader should drop out of the race to help Kerry did not come up. Kerry did not ask Nader to drop his bid, nor did Nader name any conditions for his withdrawal, the Kerry aide said.

The war in Iraq, which has been a dividing line between Nader and Kerry, was also not discussed, according to the Kerry camp.

Nader opposed the war and has called for the pullout of U.S. troops within six months. Kerry, while critical of the way the Bush administration has handled the war, voted in favor of a resolution authorizing the president to take military action, and he has said U.S. troops should remain in Iraq as part of a force with more international participation.

Democratic leaders have been trying to persuade Nader to leave the race, fearing that he will help President Bush by pulling away left-wing voters from Kerry. But Nader has insisted that he plans to remain in the contest through the November election, arguing that he will help defeat Bush by drawing disenchanted Republicans away from the president.

During their meeting, both men made their case, with Kerry telling Nader that his election was the best way to beat Bush, and Nader telling Kerry that he could go after the president in ways Kerry could not, the Kerry aide said.

But while Kerry did not directly confront Nader over the possible effect of his candidacy, other prominent Democrats are being less reticent.

"Ralph Nader has contributed an enormous amount to this country, and, for some inexplicable reason, he seems determined to wreck his legacy," said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, one of Kerry's defeated Democratic rivals, in an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper. "I think he's hell-bent to do this."

Dean also said Nader's argument that he would draw support equally from Kerry and Bush made "no sense."

"He's clearly not going to take more votes away from George Bush than he is from John Kerry," Dean said.

CNN's Candy Crowley, Ed Henry and Steve Turnham contributed to this report.

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