Edwards Courts Dean, Nader Supporters

John Edwards courted former presidential rival Howard Dean (search), Dean's supporters and would-be backers of Ralph Nader (search) on Monday as he sought to close the gap with front-runner John Kerry (search).

The North Carolina senator pressed his campaign in areas suffering as a result of free trade, drawing distinctions with Kerry by emphasizing his own humble origins as the son of a mill worker whose plant was forced to close.

"I've lived with this all my life," Edwards told an overflow crowd of hundreds in a train depot, as whistles wailed in the background.

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He sounded the same theme earlier in the day in New York City, when he told garment workers at a union hall that in the effort to restore lost U.S. jobs, "I take this personally."

In the search for votes, Edwards said at a news conference in New York that he had talked to Dean several times since his withdrawal from the race and had asked for his support. Dean offered no specific commitment, Edwards said.

Kate O'Connor, Dean's chief aide, said Monday that she was unaware of any recent overtures from Edwards or his aides about an endorsement or other help.

Dean has encouraged his backers to vote for him in upcoming contests, even though he's no longer in the race, so he'll have more delegates to take to the Democratic convention this summer in Boston.

Still, Edwards said he was picking up support from much of Dean's organization and former supporters in states that vote March 2, particularly in Ohio and New York. His campaign released statements of support from former Dean supporters, including leaders of several student groups.

Edwards also encouraged voters who might be considering independent candidate Nader to vote for him instead. He said both he and Nader, who entered the race Sunday, were high on consumer protection and "fighting for the little guy."

"A lot of voters would find me appealing on those same issues," he said

Edwards has been concentrating on states like Georgia, Ohio and New York in hopes that the trade message that helped him to a strong second-place finish in Wisconsin last week will win him more votes.

His campaign intends to begin airing two 30-second TV commercials in upstate New York on Tuesday, focusing on lost U.S. jobs and his core theme of "two Americas," campaign officials said.

His advisers recognize that he must win at least some of the 10 states that vote on March 2 to stay in the race. Before that, however, there are Democratic contests Tuesday in Hawaii, Idaho and Utah.

Campaigning Monday in Manhattan's garment district, which has a history of losing jobs and has seen its workers displaced by those in Edwards' home state and other parts of the South, Edwards said that while he has opposed most trade liberalization treaties, Kerry has supported them.

"Men and women just like you built America. We ought to trade in a way that works," he told an enthusiastic audience of members of UNITE, which represents 500,000 textile, garment and laundry workers nationally.

Omar Alexander, 59, told Edwards he was laid off last September as a clothing cutter after the company for which he had worked for 33 years shut down and moved its operations overseas without taking any workers with them.

"What's going to happen to people like me?" Alexander asked.

Edwards, citing the "dignity I see in your face," told Alexander that as president he would initiate policies that would provide greater protection for American workers.

"This is something that crowd in Washington just doesn't get," he said, clearly a veiled reference to Kerry as well as to President Bush.

Garment worker Agnes Wong told Edwards that available work hours are shrinking for those fortunate enough to have jobs. "There is no place to find jobs," she said. "You are going to win for us."

After loud applause, Edwards said: "Thank you ma'am ... Yes, I am going to win for you."