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Edwards stresses import of troop withdrawal from Iraq

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards said yesterday that Congress should continue to push for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq regardless of what top military advisers say in their progress report next month.

The former North Carolina senator started the last day of his four-day bus tour of New Hampshire outside City Hall, where he told several hundred people that they should ask themselves two key questions when the report is released. First, has Iraq made progress toward a political solution? And second, how long will troops be deployed if there is no progress?

Edwards has said that if he were president, he would remove about 50,000 American troops immediately, with the rest redeployed over about nine months.

"Although they haven't done squat yet, I would give [Iraq prime minister Nouri al-Maliki] and the Sunnis at least a few months to reach a compromise. But they've got to know there's a deadline," he said.

Maliki, meanwhile, lashed out at Democrats who have called for his ouster, saying yesterday that Americans who treat Iraq "as if it were one of their villages" should "come to their senses."

Edwards said the prime minister is focusing on the wrong issue.

"I think what Maliki needs to focus on is the Shi'ite leadership and the Sunni leadership reaching some political compromise and making progress, which they have not done. That should be the question in Iraq," he said later in Salem.

Amber Wilkerson, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said Edwards's plan would be the mistake.

"The fact that John Edwards wants to choke off funding for our troops and micromanage our generals on the ground demonstrates one of the reasons why Americans will never elect him as our commander in chief," she said.


A call for primary order
EXETER, N.H. -- Presidential hopeful Bill Richardson appealed over the weekend for an end to the one-upmanship among states vying to hold the earliest Democratic Party primary.

Speaking after a campaign stop at a home in Exeter, the New Mexico Democrat said he believes it is important that the leadoff roles of Iowa and New Hampshire "not be usurped."

Richardson was speaking Saturday, after the national party said Florida Democrats would forfeit their votes in selecting a presidential nominee unless they delay their state election by at least a week. Saturday's warning by the DNC rules committee is intended to discourage others from leapfrogging ahead to earlier dates.

The Florida party has 30 days to submit an alternative to its planned Jan. 29 primary or lose its 210 delegates to the nominating convention in Denver next summer.

"As a candidate, I just want to get this settled and just appeal to all parties to get their act together and have some definitive roles," Richardson said. "Let's have an orderly process instead of states trying to outdo each other."

Richardson said he learned about the DNC tough stance on Florida after the Exeter event.

He joked last week that the states' scramble to hold the nation's first primary hasn't helped his "underdog campaign," saying that he needs as much time as he can get to compete against better-financed and better-recognized rivals.

Party rules say states cannot hold their 2008 primary contests before Feb. 5, except for Iowa on Jan. 14, Nevada on Jan. 19, New Hampshire on Jan. 22 and South Carolina on Jan. 29.


Thompson touts progress
INDIANAPOLIS -- All-but-declared GOP candidate Fred Thompson said he is in a sound position to make a run for the nomination even though others announced their candidacies months ago.

"We have done within a few months what other people have spent much longer periods of time doing," Thompson told reporters Saturday before delivering a keynote speech to the Midwest Republican Leadership Conference, which has drawn party activists from 12 states.

Thompson has had a less-than-stellar summer that included a campaign staff shake-up and fund-raising that failed to meet expectations. But he has polled well in national surveys despite his unofficial status.

"We've made some changes along the way and are better for it, and I think we are where we need to be right now," he said.

Thompson, a former Tennessee senator and an actor known for his role as a district attorney on NBC's "Law & Order," was the third and final GOP hopeful to speak at the conference.

Unlike the stiff character he plays on television, Thompson was casual as he spoke. He warmed up the crowd with a few jokes, saying that while he was a senator he could recall that every once in a while, a member of Congress would slip up by "actually spending their own money."

He spoke mostly in general terms on serious matters, saying that one of the most pressing challenges facing America was national security and the terrorist threat from Islamic radicals.


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