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NBC Today Show Transcript

Location: Charleston, SC

September 2, 2003 Tuesday

HEADLINE: Senator John Kerry, Democrat, Massachusetts, talks about his bid for the White House and the changes he'll make


KATIE COURIC, co-host:

On CLOSE UP this morning, the race for the White House. Today, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry officially throws his hat into the ring, seeking the Democratic Party's nomination. Senator Kerry is in Charleston, South Carolina, where he begins a two-day kickoff that will also take him to Iowa, New Hampshire and Boston.

Senator Kerry, good morning.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Good morning, Katie.

COURIC: I know you've been running for nine months really, so this announcement is—is pretty much pro forma. But many political observers say it comes at a pivotal time during the campaign, that your campaign really needs re-energizing. Do you agree?

Sen. KERRY: Well, we need to declare to people precisely why I'm running, which is what I'm doing today. I want Americans to understand that we, all of us, need to focus and summon the courage to do what's right for our country. I think President Bush is moving our nation in the wrong direction, Katie. And I say that with respect, but I say it firmly. I think our foreign policy is arrogant, and we are losing influence and respect in the world. I believe also here at home we could do a better job of putting people back work. That's why I'm running for president, and I look forward to this race.

COURIC: Obviously, there's a long way to go before the election. But a year ago you were considered the front-runner among the Democratic candidates. But recently one poll last week show you—showed you trailing Vermont Governor Howard Dean by 21 points. Another poll in Iowa showed you placing third behind Dean and Gephardt. So why hasn't your candidacy gotten more traction?

Sen. KERRY: Well, we haven't advertised. They've been on TV. There are a lot of reasons for that, Katie. This is when the campaign really begins. I mean, that's why I'm here. And I'm here to make certain that it is clear to people why I'm running for president. We are living in one of the most challenging times in recent memory in our country. I mean, September 11th was our December 7th. And we still need to make our country safer. We need leadership in the world that is going to rise to the highest levels of American values. I think in Iraq the president rushed to war. He doesn't have a plan for winning the peace. We can do a better job than we're doing today. There are too many Americans who are hurting. The middle class is working harder and harder to get ahead.


Sen. KERRY: I have...

COURIC: Since...

Sen. KERRY: ...a plan to provide health care to all Americans. Those are the things that I think will make a difference in all of these sort of games of numbers and who's where.

COURIC: Since you mentioned Iraq, what is your plan for winning the peace?

Sen. KERRY: My plan is to get other countries involved, to build the kind of coalition that the president should have built in the first place. You have to bring the world into this effort. The United States should not be carrying the risk alone, we should not be paying for it alone, and our soldiers should not be put at risk alone. I believe the president made a—an unbelievably bad decision, a dramatic decision not to bring the United Nations in earlier and to refuse the offer recently for them to be involved. We need to take the target off of American soldiers and reduce the sense of American occupation.

COURIC: I know that it's dark there right now, but we should note that behind you, Senator Kerry, in South Carolina, is the USS Yorktown which is an aircraft carrier that served both in World War II and in Vietnam. Throughout your campaign you've emphasized your experience in Vietnam. Why do you think that's so important to the American people?

Sen. KERRY: I think it's important because I think we've seen that the presidency is not the place for on-the-job training on national security and foreign affairs issues. Two-thirds of the job of president is being head of state, chief diplomat and commander in chief. And depending on the moment in history, it can be the most significant part of the job. The world is not a safe place today, and we are not safer because of the actions of the president. Or maybe put it this way, as safe as we ought to be in the world. I believe the president's foreign policy is arrogant and blustering. We move unilaterally. We have ignored North Korea for too long. We haven't done what we need to do to secure nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union. We have ignored global warming and other environmental catastrophes across the planet. Katie, there is so much more we could do to show the world a different face of America. And I intend to lead us to a better place in creating the safety that American citizens want.

COURIC: Some people suspect, some strategists say, if General Wesley Clark enters the fray, you'll no lo—longer have a corner on the market when it comes to military experience. Does that concern you?

Sen. KERRY: No, it doesn't. I've great respect for—for the general. He's a friend of mine. And if he decides to get in, that's fine. Because it's broader than just military experience. What you need is foreign policy experience. You need experience in how to make things happen, how to change our domestic policies. And we have to put people back to work. We have to create health care for all Americans. We need to protect this environment for the next generation and do a better job of living up to our generational legacy. We have huge issues on the table about Social Security and Medicare and guaranteeing that we provide prescription drugs. So there's no one component to the leadership that I bring to the table. I think it is a broad lifetime of experience of leadership, of fighting for people, of fighting for what's right and of helping to show the courage in America, the courage of all Americans that we need right now to do what's right for our country. That's the test that people will apply as to who should be president. It's a broad set of choices about how we can do better in our nation. And I believe that in each of those areas, the economy, health care, the environment, our—our choices about how we stand up to an administration that wants to challenge people's ability to have the full measure of rights in our country, all of these things. It's a—it's a broad array of experiences of leadership. And that's what I look forward to offering over the course of the next month.

COURIC: I'm sure you realize, or read, in the New York Times recently the Democrats, many seem deflated at the notion that anyone can meet—beat President Bush, particularly given his huge campaign war chest. Your thoughts?

Sen. KERRY: I—I just don't agree with that, Katie. I really don't agree with that. You know, I think Americans are incredibly smart. When people start to focus on the issues and realize that the average American is actually paying more taxes than they were before George Bush. The average American is working harder and harder to get ahead and not getting ahead. The average American knows that their education system still sees millions of children left behind every day. People in America know that the wealthiest Americans got the lion's share of this tax cut, they get most of the privileges, and the average person is simply not being represented. I think that when we—when we talk about the things that matter to people, I'm going to provide health care to every single American, Katie.

COURIC: Mm-hmm.

Sen. KERRY: I think that each American can buy into the same health care plan that the president and senators and congressmen give themselves. The average family's health care in America is just as important as any politician in Washington. And I'm going to make sure we understand how we can do that. We can live up to our generational responsibility. George Bush is moving in the wrong direction, and I'm going to help America summon that courage that every American has to do things that are right for our country.

COURIC: Senator John Kerry. Senator, thanks so much for talking with us this morning. We appreciate it.

Sen. KERRY: Thank you for sharing a moment. Great.

COURIC: It is 7:15. Now here's Matt.

MATT LAUER, co-host:

All right, Katie. Thank you.

Copyright 2003 National Broadcasting Co. Inc.

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