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GWEN IFILL: Senator Kerry, welcome.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Glad to be with you. Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: How does an endorsement like today’s help you?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Well, you have to build momentum. You have to build energy in a campaign. You have to translate any endorsement into grassroots support and votes. I’ve never taken endorsements as a free-standing means to election. I take it as a building block to the grassroots effort. And when I’ve had endorsements, I translate them into grassroots. When I haven’t had them, I go around it and do the grassroots anyway.
GWEN IFILL: You know, early in this campaign, Howard Dean was the one who got all of the union endorsements, and it didn’t seem to help him. How would it make a difference?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Well, he had a couple of them. He didn’t have all of them at all. Dick Gephardt had most of them, actually, and there are a lot of workers. But look, I’ve never relied exclusively on endorsements, and that’s what I … you know, when I ran for the United States Senate in 1984, I don’t think I was endorsed by anybody, which is why I’ve always known the lesson, and that is to go out and talk to real people and to fight for every single vote.
But a campaign is a process of building support, and I am building that support around the real choices Americans face about their lives. Health care needs are driving people crazy. I mean, people can’t afford it; employers can’t afford it. Businesses are feeling the pressure.I think we can do a better job of reducing the burden of health care costs in America. That’s what I’m building this campaign on.
Schools … kids are being left behind every single day. Teachers are paying out of their own pocket to put materials in front of children in America’s schools, while Washington is busy giving tax cuts to the wealthiest people in our country. It doesn’t make sense. That’s the campaign that I’m building, a campaign that’s based on common sense, decency, fairness, and what I think are mainstream American values.
GWEN IFILL: Since New Hampshire, just in the past couple of months, you have won 15 of the 17 primaries you’ve entered. So where do you go now?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Well, I still have to win the nomination. I mean, this is an ongoing fight and I take nothing for granted. Every single day, I’m campaigning hard. I’m … just came from Ohio yesterday. I went straight there from Wisconsin. I’ll be in Georgia on the weekend. And there are 11 states, and three of them actually up next Tuesday. So I’m continuing to campaign as hard as I can everywhere, and that’s what I will do from now through, hopefully, winning the nomination and then on towards November election.
GWEN IFILL: Have you been at all surprised by the force of the momentum involved in your campaign?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: I think, Gwen, the honest answer is that I’m pleasantly, you know, surprised and pleased by it. But I can’t tell you that the strategy didn’t say, “you’ve got to go into Iowa, you’ve got to do well in Iowa, come out in New Hampshire and build momentum.” And that’s why I worked hard at Iowa: Because I understood that out of that kind of effort comes the building block, and so I think we had a good strategy.
GWEN IFILL: You’ve never done this before. As you continue on this campaign, do you find that your message … that you’re honing your message as you go along and it’s striking different chords with different audiences?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: You know, that’s up to people to decide. I’m really talking about the same thing that I started talking about the day I announced on Tim Russert that I was going to run for president … that I was going to open an exploratory committee. And I said then, the issue for America is security: job security, wage security, income security, retirement security, health security, education, and of course physical, national security. That’s exactly what it is today.
We can do a better job of putting America to work. We can do a better job of being fiscally responsible and balancing our budget. We can do a better job of helping our kids to really open the doors of opportunity. I know we can have health care in America that reduces costs and becomes affordable and accessible to Americans.
This administration has no real plans to deal with any of America’s real issues, and so I’m just going to talk the truth. I’m talking common sense, mainstream American values. I think I won in Tennessee and Virginia because the people in the South care about the same things as people in the rest of the country: Their kids, their jobs, their health care, drinking clean water, breathing clean air, and being safer in the world. And we can do a better job on everything.
GWEN IFILL: Among the candidates in this race, including the president, there has been much discussion about special interests, who is most beholden to special interests. You obviously have a career in the Senate. The Los Angeles Times has a story today detailing letters that you wrote on behalf of a constituent. How do you, knowing the history that you have in the Senate, the letters you’ve written, the lobbying maybe — to use the word in a little L sense — that you’ve done, how do you begin to brush off those accusations, if you can?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Because my record is really so clear, and it will be as we go forward here. Where George Bush embraces the oil industry and does whatever they want, I stood up and led the fight to stop the drilling of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. Where George Bush has given the oil industry enormous tax breaks for drilling, I would be pushing harder for renewable and alternative energy, and I’ve stood up to them. I’ve stood up and fought for better auto emissions control. I stood up against the effort of Newt Gingrich to undo the Clean Air and Clean Water Act. I’ve fought for children. I’ve fought for education funding. I fight for veterans. So you measure the fights. I’ve helped people create jobs. You bet I have. That’s my job as a senator from Massachusetts. And some of them support me. You bet they do.
But I’ve also been one of the most outspoken, strongest advocates of campaign finance reform in the United States Congress. I’m the only United States Senator who has been elected four times, voluntarily refusing in any of my races to ever take one dime of Political Action Committee money. So in the total of my life, Gwen, of all my races, perhaps about 1 percent of the money that I have raised has come from anybody who’s ever lobbied for anything. I’m proud of that record. Paul Wellstone and I wrote the most far-reaching campaign finance reform bill in the Senate. And when I’m president, we’re going to get the big money out of American politics.
GWEN IFILL: The other night in a debate in Wisconsin, your major remaining competitor, John Edwards, said, “Not so fast, Senator Kerry. I just heard you talking about all of the ways you’re going to take on President Bush.” Do you feel after the results in Wisconsin that you have to in some way take on Senator Edwards?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: No, not at all. In fact, in the next breath after he said that, Senator Edwards said, “And when I’m president,” and then the audience laughed. You know, we’re all going to talk about what we want to do as president. I have great respect for John Edwards. He’s done a superb job. He’s a great competitor, and he’s still competing. And I take nothing for granted, as I’ve said.
You know, one of the reasons I think I’ve won 15 out of 17 primaries and caucuses is I’ve been fighting everywhere in this country. Unlike some candidates, I’m not cherry-picking a state here or there.
GWEN IFILL: You think Senator Edwards did?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: No, I’ve just said “unlike some in the race,” and you can figure out who they are. I’m running all over the country, and that’s what I intend to continue to do.
GWEN IFILL: Do you think that you could use the endorsement of Howard Dean to get to some of those independent voters that Senator Edwards was able to attract in Wisconsin?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Well, yeah, but I’ve also attracted those independent voters in Tennessee, in Virginia, in Iowa, in New Hampshire — and Republican voters, may I add. So I’m reaching across the lines in every state. And I think that, yes, with respect to Howard Dean, I think anybody would be … would welcome his involvement and endorsement. And I would love to sit down with Howard somewhere in the next days, but I think he deserves a little space. I think he deserves not to have people sort of just beating down his door. I respect incredibly what he achieved in this race.
GWEN IFILL: When you sit down with him, will you ask for his personal endorsement?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Absolutely. I’ll ask for it before I sit down with him. I’ll ask for it now. Howard, I hope you’ll endorse me. But I think that he accomplished a lot, and he energized our party. He energized people who aren’t part of our party. He gave a sort of focus to this race that I think all of us are grateful for, and I think Democrats owe him a great deal. And he’s obviously extremely creative in the kind of campaign that he ran. I have great admiration for it, and I’ve told him that.
GWEN IFILL: The New York Times editorial page today said “the one thing that Democratic voters know for sure is they will have to choose between two Johns who are members of the United States Senate for the nomination.” How do you tell those Democratic voters in these remaining states that you should be the John they choose?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Number one: I can beat George Bush, and every evidence shows that. Number two: I am the most experienced candidate in this field, ready to be president. I have 35 years of proven experience and accomplishment in fighting for the progressive agenda of our country and of the Democratic Party. I have fought standing up against Richard Nixon and his war in Vietnam, fought against Ronald Reagan’s illegal war in central America, helped to lead the fight to hold General Noriega accountable for putting drugs in the veins of our children and involving himself with the CIA.
I’ve led environmental fights in the United States senate. I have led the fight to put 100,000 cops on the streets of America. I’ve led the fight in 1985 with Fritz Hollings and others to reduce the deficit. I think I’ve shown a record of what I’m prepared to fight for, and I’ve also shown that I’ll walk a different path in trying to distance myself from the money in American politics.
And I have 35 years experience in foreign policy, national security, and military affairs. We’re at war. This is a dangerous time, and the world is looking to us for leadership. I think George Bush has proven it’s not a time for on-the-job training in the White House, and I think we want somebody who has a proven, steady hand at the helm of state, who’s prepared to make America safer and live up to our values and our goals and aspirations in the world.
I’ve done that in many different ways: 20 years on the Foreign Relations Committee, as a former chairman of the Narcotics Terrorism Committee. I think I’ve been a leader on those issues, and I think America wants real leadership.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Kerry, thank you very much.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Thank you. I appreciate it.