NEW YORK – Democrats are sending a message to Ralph Nader (search) and those who may be considering backing the independent's bid for the White House: A vote for Nader is a vote that will keep President Bush in office.
The two leading Democrats vying for their party's presidential nomination, John Kerry (search) and John Edwards (search), said that Nader's decision would not alter their strategy as they looked ahead to the March 2 batch of Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses.
Edwards told reporters Monday that those who supported Nader four years ago should vote for Edwards now. "A lot of those voters would find me appealing," he said.
"If you look at a lot of the basis for Ralph Nader's candidacy, his life is spent fighting for consumer issues, his life's been fighting for the little guy. I have spent a good deal of my life doing the same thing," Edwards continued.
Added Kerry: "I'm going to appeal to everyone in this race and will make it, in the end, unnecessary for an alternative."
Nader, who ran in 2000 as the Green Party's presidential candidate but who announced Sunday his plans to run this year as an independent, vowed Monday to stay in the campaign until the end — even if polls show the two major party candidates tied going into election day.
It's this pledge that worries Democratic leaders, many of whom blame Nader's presence in the 2000 race with keeping Al Gore out of the White House.
"You know, he's had a whole distinguished career, fighting for working families, and I would hate to see part of his legacy being that he got us eight years of George Bush," Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe (search) said Sunday.
McAuliffe, who personally urged Nader not to run, called the decision "unfortunate."
However, on Monday, Nader suggested a close race might be more detrimental to the president than the Democratic nominee.
"I urge the liberal establishment to relax and rejoice this is a campaign that strives to displace the present corporate regime of the Bush administration," Nader said on Monday at the National Press Club in Washington as he laid out his campaign themes before stumping in Texas later this week.
"I think those who use the word 'spoiler' should re-examine their otherwise steadfast commitment to civil liberties, to choice, to freedom."
Edwards, Kerry Push Forward
The campaigns for Edwards and Kerry sought to diminish Nader's impact on the race as both Democratic candidates said Nader would not alter their strategy.
Kerry has been largely setting his sights on Bush.
Bush will "run away from his own record" when the president unveils a re-election campaign speech Monday night, Kerry said at a rally in Harlem's Alhambra Ballroom on Monday. "And I think it's interesting that we have George Bush on the run because he has to go out and start this campaign officially tonight before we even have a nominee of the Democratic Party."
Kerry touted his jobs message, saying the nation has lost 3 million jobs and has grown weaker and more isolated from its allies under Bush, whose tax cuts and other economic policies the Massachusetts senator criticized.
"The president tonight will lay out what he calls a vision. I believe what he will do tonight is run away from his own record because he doesn't have a record to run on," Kerry said.
The Kerry campaign will start advertising in Georgia, Ohio and upstate New York Tuesday. Kerry also plans to advertise in every market that Edwards is advertising in.
The two leading Democratic candidates are more concerned with making appeals to backers of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search), who dropped out of the race last week, than they are fending off Nader.
Edwards said he speaks frequently with Dean, and has been actively courting his backers. He also has been actively courting his backers.
"We are definitely reaching out to Dean voters," said Edwards. "My message to them is: I'm the person who has the fresh ideas. I'm the person who wants to change America and change Washington."
"It is true there's been a lot of Governor Dean's supporters coming our way," Edwards' press secretary Jennifer Palmieri told Fox News on Monday.
The North Carolina senator on Monday emphasized his Southern mill-worker background before a New York labor audience, telling garment workers who have lost their jobs to overseas factories that "I take this personally."
"Your country needs to be there for you. It's no more complicated than that," Edwards told a laid-off worker at the Unite union's New York headquarters.
Edwards promoted an economic program he has said would help restore lost American jobs.
Edwards is relishing two campaign debates in the coming week, one in California and one in New York, both to be attended by Kerry and the other remaining Democratic candidates.
The debates, Edwards said, are "an opportunity for the first time for voters to focus on the two of us." Not only will voters see differences on issues but "what kind of candidates we would be against George Bush."
Fox News’ Peter Brownfeld, Catherine Loper, Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.