Those same activists greeted anti-war statements by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and civil rights activist Al Sharpton with applause and cheers.
"I believe that Saddam Hussein is a serious threat," Edwards told delegates to the annual California Democratic Party convention, "and I believe he must be disarmed, including the use of military force if necessary."
The crowd booed loudly and briefly interrupted his remarks with cries of "No war! No war!"
Hours later, Dean issued an apparent challenge to Edwards and other Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Sen. John Kerryof Massachusetts, who voted for last fall's congressional resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.
"What I want to know is what in the world some of these Democrats are doing supporting the president's unilateralintervention in Iraq?" he said to sustained applause.
"We want Dean! We want Dean!" the crowd shouted.
Sharpton attacked the potential war as "a very unneeded, a very misguided mission."
As six Democratic presidential hopefuls descended on voter- and donor-rich California, the responses from convention delegatesillustrated a party split over Iraq.
Core Democrats largely oppose President Bush on the war and disagree with some of the more prominent presidential contenders.That's given a boost to anti-war candidates like Dean and Sharpton, while making it harder for Kerry, Edwards and others to getactivists enthused.
But eight months before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, some analysts believe an anti-war candidate could havetrouble beating Bush.
"It is not helpful to the party if this party becomes viewed by the public as insufficiently concerned about national security andhomeland security," said Democratic consultant Garry South.
Meanwhile some 400 anti-war activists rallied a few blocks away, then marched chanting and shouting to the Sacramento ConventionCenter.
"The candidates know that to be successful they need California and to be successful here, a pro-peace platform is mandatory,"said protester Chris Dunn of California Peace Action.
Presidential hopeful and former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, set to address the convention Sunday, joined the protestersoutside.
Inside the convention hall, Edwards approached the Iraq issue carefully as he addressed some 1,800 Democratic activists.
"It is also a test of presidential leadership to have the backbone to say to those who strongly disagree with you, even yourfriends, what you believe," he said before expressing support for force in Iraq.
But Edwards criticized Bush for not getting world backing.
"It is a test of presidential leadership to lead in a way that ralliesothers to our cause," Edwards said. "This president has not done that."
Kerry did not directly express support for disarming Saddam by force when he addressed delegates Friday night and encountered onlyscattered anti-war shouts.
"The United States of America needs to be serious about how to deal with the issue of proliferation. But the United States ofAmerica in the conduct of that use of potential force needs to respect international institutions," he said.
The candidates devoted much of their time to attacking Bush's domestic agenda, and there they agreed. They said Bush's policieshad favored the rich and created deficits, and they accused him of failing to deliver on education, health care and the environment.
Republicans brushed aside the criticism.
"It's clear that they're pandering to the liberal base of the Democratic Party and it's a message that is not going to resonatewith mainstream American voters, the vast majority of whom support the president and his policies both domestic and foreign," saidKaren Hanretty, spokeswoman for the California Republican Party.
Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich also planned to address delegates Sunday. The three presidential hopefuls who did not attend theweekend event were Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bob Graham of Florida, and Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri.
Lieberman and Gephardt cited schedule conflicts, while Graham is recuperatingfrom heart surgery.
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