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Presidential Candidates Converge On AFL-CIO Meeting In Florida

Posted March 24, 2003

— Four Democratic presidential candidates vying for the party's nomination made their pitch to labor leaders Monday, converging on Florida to appeal to a key constituency.

Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri and former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois met privately with AFL-CIO leaders during the union's executive council meetings.

"I think they're looking for somebody who sees things through their eyes and will fight for working families," Edwards said. "I think they're looking for somebody who's really willing to take this fight to George Bush."

The meetings represent the year's first extensive showcase in Florida for the crowded field of Democrats hoping to defeat President Bush next year.

Florida remains a focal point following the 2000 presidential recount, and has 27 electoral votes, or 10 percent of the number needed to capture the White House.

Florida Sen. Bob Graham plans to file papers this week to form a campaign committee for president.

Graham wasn't attending the weeklong conference; he's recovering from heart surgery late last month.

Some activists have said Graham's presence in the race could hinder other Democrats from raising money in the state.

But Lieberman, who built an extensive political network in south Florida as the party's 2000 vice presidential nominee, was holding fund-raisers in North Miami, Boca Raton and Palm Beach.

Edwards said Graham would be "the obvious clear favorite in the primary in Florida." But Edwards said he plans to "compete everywhere I know how."

Moseley-Braun, the lone woman in the field, touted her experience in government and abroad as U.S. ambassador to New Zealand.

"My message is ... restoring hope to the people and giving people the notion that we really can turn this economy around," she said.

Gephardt planned to meet with reporters Tuesday following his address to the union's executive council at the Diplomat Hotel.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean also planned to meet with labor leaders Tuesday.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who is recovering from prostate surgery, was not attending the meetings.

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