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Between 1,500 and 2,000 people came to a St. Paul union hall to see Sen. John Edwards. The crowd got so large that people spilled into overflow rooms and the parking lot. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich were in Minnesota Saturday, encouraging Democratic voters to choose them in the March 2 party caucuses. Edwards and Kucinich are two of the four Democrats seeking the party's nomination for president. Their appearances are likely to be the first of many campaign visits to Minnesota over the next two weeks.

St. Paul, Minn. — Between 1,500 and 2,000 people came to a St. Paul union hall to see Sen. John Edwards. The crowd got so large that people spilled into overflow rooms and the parking lot. Edwards used that to his advantage by jumping onto the bed of a pickup truck and hollering to supporters with a bullhorn. He then rushed into the main room and told the crowd he was inspired by the turnout.

"Anybody who doubts that the American people want this campaign to go on, all they have to do is be in this building here and they will have no question about that," Edwards said.

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Image Kucinich meets supporters

Edwards played on his campaign theme of creating one America that isn't divided by rich and poor. He mentioned health care, poverty and civil rights, but offered few specifics on addressing those issues. Edwards also criticized the Bush administration's economic policy for causing jobs to be moved overseas.

"They said that the outsourcing of millions of American jobs over the next decade was good thing for America. What planet do these people live on?" Edwards said. "Let me tell you what would be good for America. What would be good for America is to outsource this administration."

The crowd agreed, chanting, "Outsource Bush!"

In recent weeks, Edwards has been using trade to distinguish himself from the front-runner, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. Edwards says he opposes NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, while pointing out that Kerry voted for it. He also called on Kerry to agree to a few debates between the two.

Edwards also made a direct appeal to Howard Dean supporters in the audience. Dean, the former Vermont governor, dropped out of the race after a poor showing in Wisconsin last week. That appeal had an impact on Dean supporter Kathleen Selz of St. Paul. She says she's undecided at this point, but will look at Edwards' record.

"If you have to make the tradeoff between the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party -- where I stand -- and electability, I would like to find someone who has the basic Democratic, liberal platform uppermost in his mind," Selz said.

Selz says she's also considering Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich told a crowd of about 100 environmentalists and union members in South St. Paul that he's the only candidate who voted against the war in Iraq. He also says he's the only active candidate who would withdraw from NAFTA and the World Trade Organization.

"There is what I call a big fakeout going on over trade -- where candidates for president are standing in front of workers, crying crocodile tears, but they won't ... commit to getting out of NAFTA and the WTO," Kucinich said.

Meantime, front-runner John Kerry is stepping up his campaign activity in Minnesota. Over the weekend, Minnesota's DFL Sen. Mark Dayton endorsed Kerry. The campaign also asked AFL-CIO President John Sweeney to speak to reporters on Kerry's behalf. The AFL-CIO endorsed Kerry earlier this week. Sweeney says the union believes Kerry will work to "remedy" his vote for NAFTA in the early '90s.

"While there have been slight differences in the past, the fact is that Kerry and Edwards have the same position on trade going forward. We firmly believe in our support for Senator Kerry," Sweeney said.

Kerry supporters say their candidate has championed Democratic causes for three decades, and is the only candidate who can defeat President Bush. Kerry is expected to visit Minnesota sometime this week.

The winner of the Democratic nomination will face President Bush in the November election. Pundits say it's likely that Minnesota will be a battleground state, and Republicans are ready for that battle. Randy Wanke with the Republican Party of Minnesota says it doesn't matter who Bush faces. He says he thinks Minnesotans will support Bush's message of low taxes over whoever is the Democratic nominee.

"Every single one of them, whether it's Kerry or Edwards or even Kucinich, has said that they want to raise taxes. That's the last thing we need right now," Wanke said.

Republicans will have their chance to show their support for President George W. Bush this week. Vice President Dick Cheney is scheduled to make a campaign stop in the Twin Cities on Monday.

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