Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd on Saturday criticized rivals John Edwards and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who were overheard discussing among themselves their hope of limiting the number of Democrats in presidential debates.
The private exchange was picked up by several broadcasters on an open microphone after an NAACP forum in Detroit on Thursday. All the Democratic contenders took part in the program, including Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich.
“I’d remind them that the mike is always on,” Dodd told reporters on Saturday after addressing a state convention of Utah Democrats.
“Celebrity and money are not going to decide this race,” he said. “People take some offense at it in these early primary and caucus states.”
Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, and New York Senator Clinton had agreed that the debates would be more meaningful if there were only a handful of candidates.
“We should try to have a more serious and a smaller group,” Edwards said, and Clinton agreed.
“Our guys should talk,” Clinton said, complaining the format had “trivialized” the discussion.
Dodd is the third Democratic presidential candidate to visit Utah following Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who arrived Friday night for a state party fundraiser.
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, is expected to attend a fundraiser in Park City in August.
Utah is dominated by Republicans, but some wealthy Democratic donors can be found here and its central location in the West makes it important to presidential candidates seeking the Democratic nomination.
Dodd blasted debate organizers for giving Democratic candidates little opportunity to offer voters more than “bumper sticker answers” on important issues.
“My problem is you’re insulting me and the American public when you give 30 seconds to talk about Darfur and Iraq,” he said. Sudan’s vast western Darfur region has been torn by ethnic conflict for four years, with more than 200,000 people killed and millions displaced.
In Utah on Friday, Richardson said voters should decide the election based on debates in which all the candidates can discuss issues unfiltered by big-money politics.
Ralph Nader told the Green Party’s national convention Saturday that he is considering a 2008 presidential run and accused Democrats of trying to shut smaller parties out of the political process.
“No other country comes close to providing voters with such a small number of choices and making third party candidates hurdle an almost insuperable number of obstacles just to get on the ballot,” said Nader, the Green Party’s 2000 presidential nominee.
Later, addressing a few hundred conventioneers who chanted “Run Ralph Run,” Nader exhorted Greens to focus on raising money to boost their competitiveness.
In 2000, Nader got 2.7 percent of the votes in the general election. Democrats say he siphoned votes from the party’s nominee, Al Gore, in Florida, New Hampshire and elsewhere, giving the election to Republican George W. Bush. In 2004, Nader was much less of a factor.
He ran as an independent in 2004 but was removed from the ballot in Pennsylvania and other large states after Democrats challenged his nominating petitions.
Nader said before jumping into the 2008 presidential race he would have to put together an organization of thousands of volunteers and pro bono lawyers to defend him against the “Democratic quadrennial assault.”
“We’re going to be ready for them. We will confront them on every level,” Nader told a news conference. “They better have clean hands.”
Nader said there should be a single federal statute to govern ballot access for candidates for federal office, which he said would make it easier for independent candidates.
Elizabeth Edwards reiterated her support for gay marriage in a speech Saturday, saying the idea that it threatens heterosexual marriage is “complete nonsense.”
“I think that we have undue fear of gay marriage,” she said.
Edwards was scheduled to address a prominent gay rights group in San Francisco Saturday night. Earlier in the day, she said she would discuss a Sacramento man who died after his friends say he was attacked by people who mistakenly thought he was gay.
The death of Satendar Singh, 26, has galvanized Sacramento’s gay community and others who see it as an outgrowth of anti-gay rhetoric coming from local evangelical Christian Slavic churches.
According to Singh’s friends, the group that attacked him earlier this month as he was leaving a picnic at Lake Natomas were speaking Russian. Singh was punched once in the face and fell backward, hitting his head. He died July 5 after four days on life support.
Authorities are investigating Singh’s death as a possible hate crime.
At a Sacramento news conference Saturday afternoon, Edwards said she rewrote the speech she planned to give in San Francisco when she learned of Singh’s death.
As she campaigns for her husband’s presidential campaign in California, Elizabeth Edwards has staked out an independent position on gay rights.
She appeared last month at a breakfast before San Francisco’s gay pride parade, where she announced her support for gay marriage.
The next day, her husband, John Edwards, said her position surprised even him. The former North Carolina Senator opposes gay marriage but supports civil unions.
Associated Press writer Michael Rubinkam in Reading, Pa., contributed to this report.