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Dateline NBC
Sen. John Kerry talks with Tom Brokaw.
By Tom Brokaw Correspondent
Dateline NBC
updated 10/31/2004 7:54:06 PM ET 2004-11-01T00:54:06

Senator John Kerry started his Sunday in Ohio, a state many people believe he must carry Tuesday to be elected President of the United States. His first stop was the Shiloh Baptist Church in Dayton. Saturday, the candidate once again responded to the tape of Osama bin Laden made public on Friday:

Senator John Kerry: "As Americans we are absolutely united, all of us. There are no Democrats and no Republicans, as Americans we are united in our determination to destroy, capture, kill Osama bin Laden and all of the terrorists."

We caught up with Senator Kerry on Thursday as he traveled from Ohio to another critical toss-up state: Wisconsin.

Tom Brokaw: "The conventional wisdom in both parties at the moment is, you’ve got to have two trifectas, you’ve got to win two of the big three, Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Florida and you’ve got to win two of the smaller three, Iowa, Minnesota, or Wisconsin. You buy that?"

Senator John Kerry: "Tom, I leave all of that to other people, I really do. I'm campaigning on what makes a difference to the lives of Americans all over the country. And it will sort out Tuesday night. What's important is I think that America can do better than we're doing today. That's what's important."

Brokaw: "What's also important to the American people is the integrity of the election system and there are lots of anticipations of things going wrong, votes not being counted right, people being rejected from the polls in both parties Are you confident that this can be solved on Tuesday or do you think this will have to be settled in the courts?"

Kerry: "Oh, I don't think it's going to be settled in the courts. You know, I've got 10,000lawyers who are going to be out there in America on Election Day working to protect people's constitutional rights. We're not trying to stop anybody from voting. We want to make sure people vote."

Once we got to Wisconsin, Senator Kerry was greeted by a huge crowd, 80,000 people who turned out to see him and not incidentally rock star Bruce Springsteen.

Brokaw: "Did you ever think you could do as much for Bruce Springsteen's career?  I mean think about it."

Kerry: "It's stunning, isn't it?"

Brokaw: "He might be able to make something of himself! Are you at all tempted to get up there in the old Bill Clinton mode and sing along?"

Kerry: "I might play rhythm guitar, but I'm not going to sing. I know my limitations."

A short time later, I sat down with the Democratic nominee for an extended interview.

Brokaw: "In the final analysis, isn't this election really a referendum on terror and Iraq?"

Kerry: "No, not exclusively. No. Not exclusively."

Brokaw: "But primarily?"

Kerry: "No. Americans want to know that I will make the country safe. And I've shown, each step of the way, how I can do a better job than George Bush. For instance, George Bush went to war without the numbers of troops necessary. George Bush rushed to war without a plan to win the peace. He's pushed our allies away from us, and made it more expensive for the American people. Then, you get to the other issues: health care, education, jobs, paying people a decent wage, making America fair again. And I think people will understand, I have a better agenda than George Bush."

Brokaw: "They have been making sport of your comments in The New York Times that you want to reduce terrorism to a nuisance in America. Saying it's not a nuisance, it's a reality and we're involved in a war here.  Was that the wrong choice of words on your part?"

Kerry: "Of course we are. Of course we are involved in a war here. And what I was talking about is winning that war.The president is the one who just the other day said in an interview that whether or not we can be safe is up in the air. That's a quote of the president. Well, I don't think it is up in the air. What I was talking about was how you make America safe, so that it doesn't bother us. So that it's not something that's in our lives, tearing at the fabric of our country. I will defeat terror."

Brokaw: "This week you've been very critical of the president because of the missing explosives in Iraq."

Kerry: "Uh-huh."

Brokaw: "The fact is, Senator, we still don't know what happened to those explosives, how many for sure that were there, who might have gotten away with them. Is it unfair to the president, just as you believe he's been unfair to you, to blame him for that?"

Kerry: "No. It's not unfair. The truth is, they were warned about the ammunition dumps. They didn't give the right orders. They didn't secure it. The ammunition is missing. Those are the facts. And it happened on this president's watch."

Brokaw: "The flip side of that is that if you had been president, Saddam Hussein would still be in power. Because you—"

Kerry: "Not necessarily at all."

Brokaw: "Well, you have said you wouldn't go to war against him. And he would have his hand on those 350,000 tons, or however—"

Kerry: "No.  Tom."

Brokaw: "Three hundred and fifty tons, or however many it is."

Kerry: "No, that's not true. Because under the inspection process, Saddam Hussein was required to destroy those kinds of materials and weapons."

Brokaw: "But he wasn't destroying them."

Kerry: "And we would, but that's what you have inspectors for. And that's why I voted for the threat of force. Because he only does things when you have a legitimate threat of force. It's absolutely impossible and irresponsible to suggest that if I were president, he wouldn't necessarily be gone. He might be gone.  Because if he hadn't complied, we might have had to go to war. And we might have gone to war. But if we did, I'll tell you this, Tom. We'd have gone to war with allies in a way that the American people weren't carrying the burden, and the entire world understood why we were doing it."

Brokaw: "Are you committed to the idea of elections in Iraq? And if you're president, will you send in more American troops to make sure that they can be done in a secure fashion?"

Kerry: "I don't think we need more American troops. And yes, I am committed to elections. Yes, I am committed to success. No one has talked about cutting and running."

Brokaw: "The president says that liberty is not a gift of the American people, but that liberty is a gift of God almighty to every man and woman. Do you agree with his statement?"

Kerry: "I think everything is a gift from God almighty. Liberty, our life itself. All of the blessings of this country are a gift from God. But that doesn't mean that you can automatically make other people accept what you want them to accept. You have to bring them to the table in a thoughtful way. That's been all of history's truth."

Brokaw: "Let me ask you about social and domestic issues. Your colleague from Massachusetts, Senator Ted Kennedy, says that he's proud to be a liberal. Are you proud to be a liberal?"

Kerry: "That depends on what the issue is, Tom. You know, I'm an ex-prosecutor. I've sent people to jail for the rest of their life. What does that make me? I voted for welfare reform. I believe in the Second Amendment. I'm a hunter."

Brokaw: "But you don't deny your liberal credentials."

Kerry: "On certain issues, I'm a liberal, Tom.  On certain issues I'm a conservative. What people need to do is look you in the eye and look you in the gut, and see what you're going to do to make their lives better. We need leadership that unites America."

Brokaw: "What Republican ideas do you like? And would you be willing to try to get moving forward in your Administration, if you're elected?"

Kerry: "Well, you know, I've supported faith-based efforts. I just don't support them the way the president defined them. But I think it's important to have faith-based interventions, whether it's counseling or soup kitchens, or shelters."

Brokaw: "You're very protective of your family, and very proud of them, I know. Do you regret invoking Mary Cheney in your debate with President Bush?"

Kerry: "No."

Brokaw: "You don't regret it at all."

Kerry: "Tom, it was done with respect, and it was done with pure sense of admiration for Dick and Lynne Cheney, who I think obviously love their daughter and are very proud of their daughter. She's made it a public thing.  He's made it a public thing. And all I was trying to do was honor the reality that people are who they are."

Brokaw: "Someone has analyzed the president's military aptitude tests and yours, and concluded that he has a higher IQ than you do."

Kerry: "That's great. More power. I don't know how they've done it."

Brokaw: "Do you think too many people in your party underestimate?"

Kerry: "I think people have always underestimated President Bush. But I'm proud that in those debates, I didn't underestimate him. I like the President. I just disagree with his choices. He chose not to give health care to Americans when he could have. He chose to block people importing drugs from Canada, when he could have done otherwise. He chose to create the biggest deficit in American history, so wealthy Americans could get a tax cut. I disagree with that value system. That, to me, represents the wrong choices for our country."

Brokaw: "Vice President Cheney says it's going to be 52-47 for their ticket. What do you say?"

Kerry: "You know, that's bravado. Here's what I'll say about Tuesday. I hope America comes out and votes in record numbers, because this is the most important election of our lifetime. And I believe America can do better. We can go to work. We can be stronger at home. We can regain our respect in the world. And I hope Americans will give me the chance to make them proud."

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