NEW YORK – John Edwards (search) has thrown down the gauntlet.
While spending Friday campaigning in states where he has a chance at beating John Kerry (search) for the Democratic nomination, the North Carolina senator awaited a response to his proposal to take on the front-runner in four one-on-one debates.
In addition to a debate in Los Angeles, the former trial lawyer sent a letter to the Kerry campaign Friday, saying, "I ask that we also give people in places like New York and Ohio the chance to see where we stand on the issues."
Edwards has called for debates in New York and Georgia -- states that hold primaries on March 2 -- while campaigning in those states. Kerry has already committed to the Los Angeles debate so long as Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich (search) and the Rev. Al Sharpton (search) are involved.
"My view is the people of this country deserve more than one debate," Edwards told reporters Friday. "We ought to have at least four debates so they know what each of us has to offer, what our differences are, and our vision for the country."
The Nader Factor
Some are wondering what effect, if any, consumer advocate Ralph Nader's entry into the race will have on the other candidates, particularly as Kerry and Edwards both try to attract independent voters.
Nader's 2000 Green Party presidential run is blamed by many Democrats on tilting a close election in favor of George W. Bush. Fox News has learned that Nader will likely announce this weekend that he will run as an independent.
"I don't think it will have a tremendous amount of effect," Edwards told reporters Friday. "I think if we have a candidate across the ticket that's appealing to independents, appealing to the kind of people that might be attracted to a Nader campaign, then we'll be fine. And I think I am exactly that kind of candidate."
In Savannah, Ga., on Friday, Edwards tried to court black voters, touting his commitment to civil rights issues. He then headed to Maryland and traveled on to Buffalo, N.Y., to kick off his campaign in upstate New York, where he says manufacturing jobs have been lost to free-trade agreements.
Kerry spent Friday in Boston to take a breather from public events.
Edwards won't be on the ballot in Vermont's March 2 primary, which means he won't have a chance to capture the state's 15 delegates.
Back in January -- when candidate had to decide whether to get on the primary ballot -- it was assumed former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search) - the former front-runner in the race until the Iowa caucuses who dropped out Wednesday - would easily win that state.
Don't Duck the Debate
Edwards used his solid debate performance in Iowa and Wisconsin to catapult him to contention. Experts say it wouldn't be smart for Kerry to ignore debate challenges.
"John Kerry is positioning himself as a leader," said Democratic adviser Richard Goodstein. "I think that Kerry would be fine in debates against Edward but I think the appearance of trying to duck them would be very harmful to him."
Edwards' upbeat, relaxed style plays well on the debate stage and in states like New York and California - where campaign advertising costs an arm and a leg - debates will provide Edwards with free access to thousands of potential voters.
"Debates are important to John Edwards because he needs the opportunity to stand side by side with Senator Kerry and have people take the measure of them in that way," said David Axelrod, a media consultant for Edwards.
But the Massachusetts senator likely wants to make Edwards earn support with endorsements, paid media and big crowds - a greater challenge to a candidate with less money and a thinner national political organization who has been cherry-picking states in which to campaign.Edwards insists he's running a national campaign.
"I don't set those kind of standards," Edwards told reporters when asked how many Super Tuesday states he would need to win to stay in the running.
"I am running a national campaign, I am going to compete everywhere. There are some places that are obvious good places for me," including Maryland, New York, Ohio, Georgia and California, he added.
Taking on Trade
As the clock ticks toward Super Tuesday, Edwards is casting himself as a leading opponent of deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (search) and others, a stance that Kerry disputes.
A statement issued by the Kerry campaign Friday said that Edwards delivered a "major economic address" last year in which he didn't mention trade.
"Apparently, cracking down on unfair trade practices and promoting fair and balanced trade was not a priority for John Edwards just eight months ago," the statement said.
Although Edwards has been trying to make trade the line-in-the-sand issue, some experts say that won't resonate with voters.
"The fact of the matter is, there's not all that much daylight between their positions on trade when all is said and done," Goodstein said. "If Edwards thinks he's going close the gap on one issue, I don't think that's going to be it."
And the Polls Say ...
A Fox News poll released Friday shows that 58 percent of Democratic voters favor Kerry over Edwards. Only 21 percent of voters would back Edwards if an election were held today. There was a 5 percentage-point margin of error.
A poll by Marist College's Institute for Public Opinion shows that Kerry is leading Edwards 66 percent to 14 percent; 10 percent were undecided.
The Public Policy Institute of California found that Democrats there favor Kerry with 55 percent of the vote, while Edwards has 10 percent.
According to the Fox poll, when asked who would do a better job as a wartime president, 50 percent said Bush, while 38 percent said Kerry. Kerry beat Bush when it came to who voters thought would handle the economy better, 47 percent to 40 percent.
With Nader now in the race, 43 percent said they would vote for Bush if the election was held today, 42 percent for Kerry and 4 percent for Nader.
"You're looking at a nation at war," said Fox News analyst Tammy Bruce. "With that realization, President Bush does win in the polls when it comes to handling the war. Americans really in the back of their minds understand -- who do you want [in office]? A guy who should be in a Calvin Klein ad in the White House," she said, referring to Edwards.
"I really believe Edwards is still maneuvering into a second place spot. I think he knows he can't win and he's really trying for the vice presidency."
Fox News' Carl Cameron, Steve Centanni, Major Garrett, Yolanda Maggi and The Associated Press contributed to this report.