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January 27, 2004 Tuesday

HEADLINE: Senator John Kerry discusses the New Hampshire primary and his campaign

ANCHORS: MATT LAUER; KATIE COURIC

BODY:
MATT LAUER, co-host:

Let's take TODAY's POLITICAL PULSE with the voting already under way in New Hampshire this morning. We'll start our coverage with the front runner in the polls, Senator John Kerry.

Senator Kerry, good morning to you.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Presidential Candidate): Good morning, Matt. How are you?

LAUER: I'm fine. How are you feeling this morning? I mean, you've got a wide lead in some of the polls that we are seeing, but voters in New Hampshire are notoriously unpredictable. You can ask Walter Mondale about that. And, of course, they kept things very close with Bradley and Al Gore a few years ago. So do you believe the polls? Do you think you are well out in front?

Sen. KERRY: No, I don't. I don't believe the polls. I never have. And I'm still working to appeal to every vote that I can find in this state and point out that I am the best candidate to beat George Bush because I have the military experience, the foreign policy experience, and 35 years of fighting for people here at home, Matt.

LAUER: Let me talk about foreign policy. One of your opponents, Howard Dean, has been hammering away on you in the last couple of days about your voting record, on military conflicts. You were against the war in 1991. For the resolution to use force in 2002. And then against the aide package that the president put forward. Basically, Howard Dean seems to be saying that you vote in a way that is politically prudent or expedient. How do you respond?

Sen. KERRY: Well, I think in both cases they were very difficult votes politically. And I vote my conscious. Unlike Howard Dean, I have fought in a war and I know the responsibility of a commander and chief as to how you sund-send young men and women off to war. In the first Gulf War, I said we have to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. I was for drawing a line in the sand. I was ready to use force. I just thought we needed a little more time to build support here at home because the country, I thought, was still divided. In the case of Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction, in 1998, I suggested we ought to go to the UN and have the threat of force to hold him accountable and suggested that for Bill Clinton. In this case, I thought it was-there was a right way to do this and there was a wrong way to do it. The right way to do it was to build a legitimate coalition, was to exhaust the remedies of inspections, and to go to war as a last resort. And the president broke every one of those promises. I would have done it the right way. It's very simple.

LAUER: You-you've made some very strong statements in the last couple of days even coming as close as accusing the administration and Vice President Dick Cheney in particular of either misspeaking or misleading the American people, even questioning some of his visits to the CIA in the weeks leading up to the war. Are you accusing the vice president of conspiring with intelligence agencies in this country to mislead the American people?

Sen. KERRY: No, but I-I haven't said that. I never said such a thing, but I think it's a legitimate question as to whether or not the CIA felt pressure, whether or not-I mean, I've been in Washington long enough and on the intelligence committee to know that there is such a thing called clientitis. And sometimes there's been in the history of our intelligence, sort of a pressure to try to make particular views fit a particular mold. That question is a very legitimate one for us to ask, because I was shown photographs and told definitively this is what is happening in that building. And we were told by the administration-they have a 45 minute capacity to deploy weapons of mass destruction. They didn't. We were told that they had aerial devices that could spread these weapons over our troops. They didn't. So either something was stretched, or our intelligence was extraordinarily faulty...

LAUER: Right.

Sen. KERRY: ...and they didn't ask the right questions. I think we have a right to know for our security what the story it.

LAUER: Ten seconds left. I know you are heading to Missouri and then down South for the primaries there. Do you expect the endorsement of Dick Gephardt?

Sen. KERRY: I have no expectations about any endorsements at this point in time. I am focused on New Hampshire. The polls are just opening. There are undecided votes. And I'm going to keep working for every vote I can find here in the state of New Hampshire.

LAUER: Senator John Kerry. Senator, good luck to you.

Sen. KERRY: Thank you. We need it.

LAUER: Eight after, here's Katie.

KATIE COURIC, co-host:

Matt, thank you.

Copyright 2004 National Broadcasting Co. Inc.

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