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January 30, 2004 Friday

HEADLINE: Senator John Kerry discusses the presidential race

ANCHORS: BOB EDWARDS

BODY:
BOB EDWARDS, host:

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the new Democratic presidential front-runner, took some shots from rivals at last night's forum. His decisive wins in Iowa and New Hampshire give him an advantage for the nomination, but success also brings new scrutiny. Senator Kerry joins me on the telephone from South Carolina, site of last night's forum.

Good morning, Senator.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democratic Presidential Candidate): Good morning. Glad to be with you.

EDWARDS: Is the race for other Democrats now about knocking you out or at least slowing you down?

Sen. KERRY: Well, I don't know. You'll have to ask them. I'm just focused on talking to the citizens of South Carolina and the other states that are all up next Tuesday, and talking about what matters to people in America. I mean, you know, I think people are fed up with Washington, they're fed up with the politics of disappointment, of broken promises. George Bush's Medicare bill, now we know it's more expensive, but even before that, it was a disaster for seniors. It's not a legitimate Medicare prescription drug benefit. It's a benefit for drug companies. And the energy bill is a disgrace. It turns its back on clean energy, alternative and renewables. It's another giveaway to the big oil companies. I'll tell you, in all the years I've been in public life, I have never seen as much sort of special interest giveaway legislation and folding as there is by this administration.

EDWARDS: You said last night that people are concerned about pretty much the same issues in all regions of the country. Still, there must be some reason the Gore-Lieberman ticket was shut out of electoral votes in the South. Isn't the South different in some significant ways that you need to deal with?

Sen. KERRY: I think people make too much of that. I really believe they make too much of that. I think I know some of the reasons that they were, quote, "shut out." It was a very close race, even in those states where they lost, so clearly we can contest. We've just won a Democratic governor down in Louisiana. We've won the races around the South. I intend to contest there because I believe the Republicans have actually been misleading (technical difficulties) out with people down here, pretending that the issues are really about some of these cultural things, which have very little impact on their lives, where the real issues are whether or not they have a job, whether or not they're underemployed, whether or not they can afford their health care. We are one America. I think we all need to think about the priorities of our country.

EDWARDS: Senator, this is the flip side of a question I posed to Governor Dean this week. Is your increasing support a reflection of waning support for others, or a strong endorsement of you?

Sen. KERRY: You know, that's for voters to decide, Bob. I mean, I just don't make those decisions. I go out and I try to lay out my vision for the country. I have 35 years of experience fighting for the principles and values that I think define both our country and the Democratic Party. I mean, you know, from the time I came back from Vietnam when I stood up against Richard Nixon and fought against the war in Vietnam, through my leadership as a lieutenant governor to get acid rain legislation nationally, standing up to Newt Gingrich in his effort to destroy the Clear Air and Clean Water Act and stopping them from drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. I think people are coming to me because they see that I have 35 years of that kind of fighting experience.

EDWARDS: But how can you be an agent for change when you're viewed as part of the establishment? The Democratic...

Sen. KERRY: Well, I don't think I am viewed that way. I've been an agent of change all my life, you know. Just because you happen to work there doesn't mean you've given in to it. Look, I'm the only person in the United States Senate who has been elected four times, who has voluntarily refused to ever take one dime of political action committee special interest money in my elections, and I did that to show people that you could actually get elected without the big bucks from the PACs.

EDWARDS: And it seems like the other candidates are going to make you defend every vote you've ever taken in the Senate. Are you prepared to do that?

Sen. KERRY: Well, that's OK. I'm absolutely prepared to do that. If that's all they can fight about-I think that the American electorate wants a bigger discussion that that. When you have 6,500 votes, I'm sure you can find one or two that someone doesn't like.

EDWARDS: Thank you, Senator.

Sen. KERRY: The question is, what do you really fight for?

EDWARDS: Thank you, Senator.

Sen. KERRY: Thanks a lot.

EDWARDS: Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts speaking from South Carolina.

Copyright 2004 National Public Radio ®. All rights reserved.

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