In an unusual move, Independent Ralph Nader on Wednesday urged Kerry to choose Sen. John Edwards, saying in a campaign press release that Edwards "has already gone through a primary campaign" and that his "rhythm and oratory" are "well honed."
Nader praised Edwards, a former trial lawyer, for defending the right of Americans to sue corporations that harm them.
"Senator Edwards can stand up for the millions of Americans who suffer these harms and costs every year," Nader said.
Nader, who has been under pressure from Democrats to quit the presidential race because of his potential to woo liberal votes away from Kerry, on Tuesday announcedas his own vice-presidential running mate.
Kerry and Edwards, meanwhile, held a brief, secretive meeting on Tuesday, a spur-of-the-moment session in the Capitol that capped an unusual day of hurry-up-and-wait in the heavily scripted life of the Democratic presidential candidate.
The two men met in the President's Room, whether they knew the name or not, an ornate sitting room just off the Senate chamber, and they declined to speak with reporters afterward. While the brevity of the session indicated it was less than a full-fledged vice presidential interview, it came roughly a month before the opening of the Democratic National Convention, and at a time when Edwards is frequently mentioned as a potential running mate.
"Senator Kerry has made clear that he wants that whole process to be quiet and confidential, which I think is the correct way to do it," the North Carolina senator told reporters earlier in the day. "Because of that I'm silent."
The meeting came on an unusual day for Kerry, who spent it not campaigning for votes in New Mexico, as originally scheduled, but in the Capitol. He had come, he said, to cast a vote to increase funding for veterans' health care. Republicans, eager to deny Kerry the moment he sought, maneuvered to prevent a roll call.
By evening, he bemoaned the delay in remarks on the Senate floor. "We have an opportunity to make a choice today. If we don't, then we'll continue to talk about this issue over the next months," the Democratic presidential candidate said. "And the American people will make a choice in November."
The proposal was advanced by Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, who said it was designed to make sure enough money was available each year to cover the prescription drug and health care costs of all veterans eligible for benefits. Aides put its cost at $300 billion over the next decade.
Kerry has been in the Capitol infrequently this year as he pursues the presidency. But on this day, the man whose days are normally a frenzy of campaign activity spent hours chatting amiably with colleagues on the Senate floor, giving fellow Democrats an overview of his campaign at a closed-door lunch and posing with 99 other senators for the formal portrait of the 108th Congress.
"Our next president is in there. He was fantastic," Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said after attending the lunch.
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who rejected overtures that he join Kerry on a ticket that crossed party lines, walked by him on the Senate floor at one point and leaned over to greet his fellow Vietnam War veteran. Kerry remained seated, the two men grasped hands and chatted briefly.
"Senator Kerry ought to have an opportunity to vote" on veterans, Daschle, of South Dakota, said at mid-afternoon, at a time when the presidential candidate still nursed hopes — later abandoned — of being able to do so in time to fly to New Mexico for an evening fund-raiser.
Nader had a meeting of his own on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, conferring with black members of Congress and rejecting their request that he quit the presidential race. At the same time, Arizona Democrats prepared to challenge Nader's qualifications to appear on that state's ballot as an independent candidate.
Shouts could be heard from inside the meeting in the basement of the Capitol with more than a dozen Congressional Black Caucus members, including Nader's voice, in what proved to be a rancorous session. One female shouted, "You can't win," to which Nader shot back an inaudible response.
Some lawmakers stormed out of the meeting for a House vote and didn't return.
"It became abundantly clear to us that this was about Ralph Nader and we were sorely disappointed," caucus chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md, said afterward. "If nothing else we believe we've had an impact on his conscience. Now we pray he'll synchronize his conscience with his conduct."
Nader dismissed the shouting as an "exciting exchange" between two sides with the same goal – the defeat of President Bush – but with different strategies for achieving it.
Separately, Democrats in Arizona were expected Wednesday to formally challenge Nader's qualifications to appear on the ballot. Democratic National Committee spokesman Jano Cabrera said the challenge would focus on the validity of thousands of signatures Nader's supporters submitted to Arizona officials.