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Dorgan: Edwards for VP

Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.) is quietly urging his colleagues to back Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) as their party’s vice presidential nominee to help balance the ticket with a Southern voice who would also appeal to voters in key battleground states in other regions of the country.

Dorgan has been talking up Edwards’ candidacy to Senators in informal discussions just as there is a new sense of urgency among Democrats for Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), his party’s presumptive presidential nominee, to choose a running mate soon.

“I am not waging a campaign, I am just expressing myself and others should express their interest as well,” Dorgan said. “I think people in our [Democratic] Caucus like him, and I think almost everyone understands he ran a great campaign.

“I want the strongest ticket possible this fall. I want to win the presidency and I happen to believe … the strongest ticket possible will be a John Kerry-John Edwards ticket.”

Dorgan and Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.), who is also backing Edwards, are the only two Democrats in the chamber who have publicly identified by name whom they think Kerry should choose as a running mate.

“I just think that this guy has tremendous national appeal and would add a lot to the ticket,” Conrad said.

Edwards appeared at the North Dakota Democratic nominating convention April 3 and Conrad said, “I have never seen such a strong response to a candidate as I saw to him.”

Edwards also scored high marks with other Democratic colleagues during the primary contest, particularly in the closing months, when he was able to contrast himself with Kerry without resorting to personal attacks.

“He ran a hell of a great campaign,” said Sen. Jon Corzine, (N.J.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who nonetheless stopped short of endorsing Edwards. “He is articulate and clearly has a face to the South and that helps. I think there are a lot of positive ingredients to John.”

Corzine stressed that there are several other qualified individuals who would help strengthen the ticket, and said he would be “happy with any of them.”

In addition to Edwards, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he suggested to Jim Johnson — the head of Kerry’s vice presidential search committee — that the nominee also give serious consideration to Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) as potential running mates.

“I think those three should be the first names that are seriously considered,” Durbin said.

Durbin said that while Edwards gives Democrats an entree into the South, he believes Graham would give Democrats a stronger shot at winning Florida, while Gephardt offers a similar value in Missouri.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has also spoken highly of Graham in recent days. The two got to know each other during the House and Senate Intelligence committees’ joint investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Durbin’s assessment of Kerry’s selection strategy was echoed by several of his colleagues, who noted that the Massachusetts Senator must determine what is more valuable: choosing a running mate to help win an electoral-rich battleground state, or a person that would be well- received in middle America.

“I think if they think one state is make-or-break — such as Florida or Missouri, then I think Gephardt or Graham” would be chosen, said a senior Democratic Senator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Another Democratic Senator suggested that Edwards’ true value would not be solely in the South but in other parts of the country as well.

“While [Edwards] is not likely to carry a true Southern state, I think he will be a very important force in the border states, and they are all in play,” said the Senator, who asked not to be named.

There is a similar sentiment about Edwards among House Democrats, who see the North Carolinian as a strong candidate for the vice presidential slot. “He has the potential for energizing the South for us,” said one House Democratic leadership aide.

Indeed, some House Democrats view Edwards and Gephardt as the frontrunners to become Kerry’s running mate — with some party insiders believing a little stronger.

“He brings to the table what Gephardt doesn’t,” said a top-level Democratic aide. “He is more of an outsider than anyone else because of his short tenure.”

Edwards has served in the Senate for only one term, while Gephardt is perceived as a Washington insider.

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) — another person who might be able to eschew the Washington insider label — is also drawing interest, particularly from some House Democrats. Having Kerrey on the ticket would further solidify Democrats’ foreign policy credentials, they argue. Like the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Kerrey is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who served as the senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee during his tenure in the Senate.

Recently, Kerrey — who retired in 2000 — has made headlines for his role as a member of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Kerry deputy campaign manager Steve Elmendorf would not comment on the status of the vice presidential search but said that Johnson has sought the advice of “labor unions, interest groups, Senators and House Members.”

“Part of his assignment was to consult with all of the people in the party who have something to say about this,” Elmendorf said.

Kerry’s most trusted Congressional adviser, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), said he has a “great deal of confidence” in Johnson’s ability to properly vet the vice presidential candidates as well as Kerry’s ultimate judgment in choosing a top-flight running mate.

But Kennedy acknowledged that Edwards “has demonstrated in the course of the campaign, a considerable quality and I imagine he is going to be one of those to be considered.”

Another pressing issue is for Kerry to pick someone quickly to help raise money and echo his message on the campaign trail.

“The sooner the better,” one Democratic Senator said.

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