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MSNBC Interview - Transcript


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MSNBC Interview - Transcript

MS. MITCHELL: I'm Andrea Mitchell, and joining us now from the Senate, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee who is of course supporting Barack Obama.

Senator Kerry, I think you also heard this endorsement by Governor Schwarzenegger, which certainly is helpful to John McCain in a general election strategy if he becomes the nominee. It's arguable whether or not it helps him with conservative Republicans out there in California. But John McCain has this broader appeal, and a lot of Democrats have said to me that he would be the toughest candidate for the Republicans to run against any Democrat.

How does Barack Obama go up against John McCain, who, arguably, has the best commander-in-chief credential of any of the four people now in the field?

SEN. KERRY: Well, that's if you only measure commander in chief as the job, number one, and number two, if you only measure it by military credentials. And I think that there's more to it in the end with respect to your foreign policy and your leadership of our troops and what you commit our troops to and where and when and how, and those are obviously the issues that will be debated over the next month.

Look, I think -- you know, I've known John McCain a long time. I've worked with him on some issues. And Arnold Schwarzenegger's a good friend of mine. I've known him since he first came to the country and before he even entered politics. This helps John McCain in some ways. It remains to be seen, obviously, what it does in terms of the base of the Republican Party. But I like what Arnold is doing in the state on the environment, and John has certainly spoken out on global climate change.

The problem for John is that there's so many contradictions as we go down the road. This isn't the moment to go into all of them, but his embrace of a whole bunch of other policies absolutely negate his ability to do some of the things he's talking about. Barack Obama, on the other hand, I believe, brings an unbelievable ability to be able to galvanize people to focus on issues, to have a clarity to what he is fighting to change and to inspire people with that mission. We have yet to see whether or not that happens on the other side of the aisle, whether that happens with John McCain or whoever it is.

But I do think that Barack Obama -- here's what's most important. Barack Obama, I believe, is the strongest candidate to go up against John McCain. I think we have strong candidates in both Hillary and Barack, but Barack is the strongest. Why? Because Barack Obama comes with the greater ability to be able to be a transformational president in a larger sense and to have a clear difference between he and John McCain. He didn't vote for the war. He has not voted for other things that Hillary and he have voted for. There'll be a clear demarcation, and that's very important for the voters.

Secondly, Barack came and took on the issue of reform in Washington right away. He has led the fight on the ethics reform. And so I think that the ability of the Republicans to try to tie up another opponent with past issues or past records is going to be much tougher with respect to Barack Obama.

And thirdly, there's a generational shift and ability to be able to bring young people and other people to the table; that I think John McCain with his contradictory policies, his embrace of George Bush, his support of the president's back policies in certain places is going to have a very hard time doing.

MS. MITCHELL: But Senator, you had been complaining about the negative attacks from Hillary and Bill Clinton. Yet Senator Obama has recently been much more negative. He was much tougher in Denver yesterday and really going after the Clintons and their record.

How does that elevate the level of debate and dialogue here?

SEN. KERRY: Well, in fairness -- let's be really fair here, Andrea. I think that what he was doing was contrasting votes and contrasting factual record. That is always permissible and in fact important in a campaign. It is important for people to draw the distinctions --

MS. MITCHELL: Well, wait a second --

SEN. KERRY: -- between their votes and record.

MS. MITCHELL: -- (off mike) -- let me play for you one of the things that he said yesterday in both Denver and Phoenix, a play on words on the metaphor that Bill Clinton used in the '96 campaign.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): (From videotape.) I know it is tempting after another president named George Bush -- this is our second one now. And so I know it's tempting to simply turn back the clock, look backwards and try to build a bridge back to the 20th century.

(End of videotape.)

MS. MITCHELL: Now, Senator Clinton said that that was audacious but not very hopeful play on words on his book title. Does she have a point? Is Senator Obama going a little bit overboard here?

SEN. KERRY: No, I -- look, Andrea, has President Clinton or has he not frequently talked about his presidency? Has he or has he not frequently and has Hillary or has she not frequently referred to what happened during the term of the president? Of course, many, many times. And I think that what Barack Obama is trying to point out is, is this is not about them. This is about now and the future, most importantly about the future, and who can best lead us into that future.

You know, in a purely comparative sense, I think that Barack Obama actually has more legislative experience than his principal opponent. He --

MS. MITCHELL: You're counting his state senate.

SEN. KERRY: Well, of course. But why not? That's life experience. He has been a legislator longer. He is in fact older than Bill Clinton was when Bill Clinton became president, older than Teddy Roosevelt, older than John Kennedy. And he's had more experience, in fact, in foreign affairs as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and in other ways -- living abroad, et cetera -- than President Clinton did when he came out of Arkansas as a governor and became president.

I think -- you know, they've made a big deal out of whether or not he's ready, and so I think it's important for him to be able to contrast these real parts of the choice.

MS. MITCHELL: And presumably that's what he'll be doing in the debate tonight.

SEN. KERRY: Well, I hope --

MS. MITCHELL: Have you talked to John Edwards? I was just wondering whether you had talked to --

SEN. KERRY: I'm calling now. I'm trying to reach him today. I look forward to talking with him and with Elizabeth. And in fact, I just told my staff before I came on here that we've got to complete that.

MS. MITCHELL: And do you think that you have any chance of persuading them to endorse Barack Obama?

SEN. KERRY: Well, I'm not going to try and do that. I don't think it's appropriate for me to call and do that. When it is appropriate -- you know, I know what it's like to wage this effort. John waged it with me four years ago. I think he's raised very important issues in this campaign. Obviously, I know them both and admire their commitment to public service, and I think that, you know, it's important not to, you know, forget what this really about, which is the larger mission. And they haven't forgotten. And I know it's tough when you decide that that quest has ended.

So I, you know, want to have a conversation with them about them and about what they tried to achieve, not about Barack right now.

MS. MITCHELL: All right. Thank you very much, John Kerry, and I know you know of what you speak. And this is -- we all treat it as a game sometime and sometimes it's serious stuff, but it's also personal. There's a human element.

Thank you very much for joining us.

SEN. KERRY: Thank you.

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