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Obama, Edwards Court Wal-Mart Critics

Washington, D.C., Sen. Barack Obama and another potential Democratic 2008 presidential contender, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, will speak to activists from one of Wal-Mart's most vociferous union-backed critics Wednesday as debate over the retailer becomes increasingly political, according to the Associated Press. WakeUpWalMart.com said Obama and Edwards will address the group's supporters on two national conference calls that will launch a six-week campaign targeting Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Wal-Mart urged Obama and Edwards to get to know the company and its employees before making up their minds about the retailer. "We've found that most of the politicians who are most critical of Wal-Mart are the ones that know us the least," Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar said.

Obama's office said the Illinois senator "is participating in this call because he believes all workers in America, no matter who they work for, deserve to be paid a living wage and have access to comprehensive health care their families can afford."

The battle between Wal-Mart and its critics has taken on an increasingly political tone since WakeUpWalMart and another union-backed group, Wal-Mart Watch, were formed last year to pressure the retailer for changes, including higher wages and better benefits.

WakeUpWalMart enlisted several potential Democratic presidential candidates other than Obama and Edwards for a series of rallies in Iowa this summer. Wal-Mart replied with a letter to its 18,000 Iowa workers warning them that the politicians were wrongly attacking their company. In August, Wal-Mart hired former Democratic operative Leslie Dach as its head of communications and government relations.

WakeUpWalMart said Obama and Edwards "will be speaking out and calling on Wal-Mart to put families first and become an employer that reflects the best of American values" during two conference calls Wednesday for the group's activists.

The call will inform the group's membership, which it puts at more than 285,000, about plans for rallies and other holiday events aimed at putting public pressure on Wal-Mart to change business practices that the critics say are antifamily, such as work scheduling changes and pay caps introduced this year.

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