NEW YORK -- Democrat Dennis Kucinich responded angrily Friday to a conversation overheard between Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards, in which the two spoke of limiting the number of candidates invited to participate in presidential forums.
"Candidates, no matter how important or influential they perceive themselves to be, do not have and should not have the power to determine who is allowed to speak to the American public and who is not," Kucinich said in a statement released by his campaign.
Asked about Kucinich's complaint during a campaign stop in Iowa, Edwards insisted that what he said to Clinton had been misinterpreted.
Edwards said he wasn't in favor of barring any of the eight Democrats from future gatherings, but rather wanted to see them separated into two groups of four each, chosen randomly.
"The result would be that we would have a much more serious discussion and people would actually be able to see what the differences are between us," he said.
Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd also criticized the remarks.
"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."
The Edwards-Clinton 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, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Mike Gravel and Kucinich.
As the candidates exchanged greetings when the forum ended, Edwards was heard telling Clinton that by fall, "We should try to have a more serious and a smaller group."
Clinton agreed, saying the forums were "trivialized" with too many candidates crowding the stage.
Kucinich, who typically polls in the low single digits, clearly felt the slight was directed at him.
"Imperial candidates are as repugnant to the American people and to our democracy as an imperial president," Kucinich said, adding that his campaign would take steps to stop any effort to limit participation in the forums.