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Edwards, Braun, Sharpton Next in Series

Self-described “Progressive Democrats” are hosting a summer lecture series for young staffers and interns against a backdrop of presidential campaigning and Democratic Party soul searching.

Organizing group 21st Century Democrats spokeswoman Laila Hirschfeld said seven of the nine declared presidential candidates were invited to speak. Excluded were Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), candidates “that haven’t been showing up at Progressive events throughout the summer,” Hirschfeld said.

In the two remaining lecture series, on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, both from noon to 1 p.m. in Room 138 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building (RSVP required), the Rev. Al Sharpton, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (Ill.) and Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) will speak. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) spoke during the inaugural lecture last Wednesday.

Hirschfeld defined her organization, originally founded by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.) and pundit Jim Hightower, as “the answer to the centrist Democrats. [Democratic Leadership Council founder] Al From’s definition of a Democrat, we would take issue with,” she said.

Harkin spokeswoman Allison Dobson said the Senator is no longer officially connected with the group but remains ideologically close. She said the Democratic Party is “in a place where some soul searching is going on,” as centrists and leftists contend for ideological leadership.

Also appearing in the lecture series on Wednesday is “Blinded by the Right” author David Brock.

Hirschfeld described Brock as “somebody released from the right.” Brock said his appearance at a 21st Century Democrats event should not be misconstrued as involvement “in their inner-party disputes,” adding that organizers didn’t ask him his views when they invited him to speak. Brock noted he’s also appeared before the New Democratic Network, an offshoot of the DLC.

“I’m perfectly happy to talk to both sides of that equation,” he said.

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