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John Edwards on campaign differences

Earlier this morning, Democratic presidential candidate former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) joined Joe Scarborough on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." Edwards discussed the importance of the Iowa Caucus, the on-going verbal attacks between Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), and his wife's battle with cancer, among other things.

Earlier this morning, Democratic presidential candidate former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) joined Joe Scarborough on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." Edwards discussed the importance of the Iowa Caucus, the on-going verbal attacks between Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), and his wife's battle with cancer, among other things.

Below is a partial transcript of the interview.

Joe Scarborough, MSNBC Anchor: Joining us from Des Moines, Iowa, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. Senator Edwards, I'm sorry to start with a tough question, but did you in kindergarten aspire to be president of the United States? 

Former Senator John Edwards, D-N.C.: No, I have a confession to make that I'm sure is going to subject me to criticism and attacks.  When I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be either a cowboy or Superman. 


Scarborough: Shocking. What do you think, Barack Obama's talking about how this is silly season, that Hillary Clinton is now attacking him for all of these different things.  Don't you think Americans are a bit more interested in bigger issues than that? 

Edwards:  Oh, yes. When you're talking to people who don't have health care or their kids are going off to serve in a war in Iraq or worried about what's been happening with respect to Iran, I think the last thing they wanted to hear is that kind of silliness. I think they're looking for somebody who's big and presidential and focused on what they want to do for the country and the world. 

Scarborough: Senator Edwards, the New York Times today, front- page article, talking about how vulnerable House Democrats and some senators are, very concerned about a Hillary Clinton ticket next year. Obviously, this is entire cycle is trending Democrat in a very big way.  Do you think Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket could hurt the Democratic Party? 

Edwards:  Well, I saw the article and I know some people are expressing concern about that.  One of the people mentioned in the story was Heath Shuler, who's running in western North Carolina.  In fact, I helped recruit Health to run there.  And he's a good man and he needs to be re-elected. What I know is that, having grown up in a small town in rural North Carolina, having won in a red state, I'm somebody who can go anywhere in America and not just help myself and help get a Democrat in the White House, but actually help people who are running in difficult places.  So, I think I'm very strong on that front, and I know that some people have expressed those concerns about Senator Clinton. 

Scarborough:  Isn't it interesting about the ebb and flow of these campaigns?  A couple of weeks ago, Chris Dodd was saying that you're the angry man, doesn't recognize John Edwards.  Now it seems Hillary Clinton is angry. E.J. Dionne this morning, in The Washington Post, talking about how you could actually win by being the optimist. 

Have you changed? Or did Chris Dodd just not know you four years ago? 


Edwards:  No, listen, I'm having fun. You know this, Joe. I've been through this out here.  I know how to close in Iowa. I have to tell you, I don't expect this time, unfortunately, to happen what happened last time, where I think I went up 20 or 25 point in the last 30 days.  If I do that, I'll be in a great place in Iowa. 

But I'm just enjoying myself.  I think campaigning is a great experience.  I know this place.  I know New Hampshire.  I know the voters and caucus-goers.  And I know what they care about; I know what they're looking for.  And that's exactly what I want to do as president are the things that they care about. 

Scarborough:  Michelle Obama said that Barack has to win out in Iowa, and Barack Obama said, "Well, you know, she's got a point."


What about you?  How important is Iowa for you? 

Edwards: Oh, I think it's important for all three of us. I mean, we have to be honest.  All three of us are locked up in a dead heat out here.  We're very close to each other.  And we're all spending a lot of time here.  Now, they've spent a lot more money in Iowa than I have, millions of dollars.  But I think it's an important place for all of us. 

My own view about it is, knowing these people here, they are very down to Earth, Iowa caucus-goers, and I think they're looking for somebody who will tell them the truth, who they think actually understands them, and I'll fight for them.  And they're also looking for somebody who they think can win. 

Scarborough:  Senator, you've got a new ad coming out today in Iowa.  We wanted to play it here first.  Let's run the ad. 

(Begin video clip)

I'm John Edwards.  I approved this message because I want every American to be able to give their children a better life.  That's the moral test of our generation. 

(end video clip)

Scarborough: Senator, a lot of Democrats in the base are concerned about the fact that their party is a lot like the Republican Party, in that they cuddle up to big business.  Do you think that's a fair charge, especially against Senator Clinton? 

Edwards:  Well, first of all, can I get to you keep running that ad all day long on MSNBC?  (Laughter)

Scarborough:  Yes, we're going to run it in a loop.  (Laughter) Tamron, will do you that? 

Tamron Hall, MSNBC Anchor:  It's done. 

Scarborough:  Tamron's got the 9 o'clock newscast.  She'll do the same thing. 

Hall: It's done. 

Edwards:  I'm definitely coming on your show more often if you'll play my ads on your show. (Laughter) I've said many times, as you probably have heard, that if we just replaced corporate Republicans with corporate Democrats that we can't bring about the big change we need in this country.  And I think we have to actually start making the government, the democracy, work for all Americans.  And that is central to one of the things I want to do as president. 

Scarborough:  We've talked about Hillary Clinton an awful lot. What about Barack Obama?  Obviously, he'd only been in the U.S. Senate two years before he decided to run for president.  Does he have the experience that it takes to be commander in chief? 

Edwards:  Well, I think we're in the process of finding that out. 

I think what caucus-goers and voters are doing, they've taken a very hard look at all of us, including Senator Obama, and they're going to make a judgment about whether they believe he's ready to be president.  They're going to make the same judgment about me and about the other candidates. 

And I think he's being tested on that front right now.  I think it remains to be seen, to answer your question. 

Scarborough:  Let's talk about health care plans.  There seems to be a furious back-and-forth between the Clinton and Obama camp.  You obviously also have your own health care plan. 

Which health care plan, loaded question, of the three really does provide universal health care to Americans?       

Edwards:  I've got a shocking answer to that one:  Mine, OK?   (Laughter) Mine is the best.

Scarborough:  You've got Robert Reich saying that Hillary is lying about Barack's plan and then you've got E.J. Dionne saying something different.  It is so confusing to voters, how do voters figure out whether you're being straight with them, or whether Hillary's being straight with them, or whether Barack's being straight with them when you talk about universal health care? 

Edwards:  I think it's very confusing for people. 

The facts are pretty clear.  Among the three plans, Senator Obama's plan is the only one that's not universal.  It could, at least by some estimates, leave about 15 million Americans without coverage. And the simple reason for it is it doesn't have a legal requirement, a legal mandate that requires everybody to be covered. 

So, you know, there are some good things in his plan, but it's not universal.  And to me, that's a threshold question, a really crucial threshold question.

So, there is a big difference between my plan and Senator Obama's.  My plan is universal. 

The difference between mine and Senator Clinton's is I have a mandate, she has a mandate.  My plan came out about six or seven months before hers.  But my mandate actually has some substance in it. In other words, I've said specifically how we'd enforce the mandate. And now, I think in the last couple of days, she's done something similar.

So, there are still some differences, like both of us -- Senator Clinton and I both have savings in Medicare.  Medicare's under intense financial pressure because there's a problem with Medicare's finances in the near future.  And I keep the money that we save in Medicare in Medicare; my understanding is Senator Clinton takes it out of Medicare, which I would not do. 

So, we do have some substantive difference. 

Scarborough:  Let's talk about a personal issue for you, and that has to do with your wife.  How's she doing right now? 

Edwards:  Oh, thank you for asking. 

She's doing very well.  She feels good.  She's out on the campaign trail.  She's been home the last few days Christmas shopping. So, I think Elizabeth's doing well. 

Scarborough:  Do the kids understand what's going on?  I mean, they're younger, but there's so much coming at them with the presidential campaign, and, God, that's hellacious pressure in the first place, but then what their mother's fighting through.  How are they adapting to it?  Do they understand the enormity of the circumstances around them right now? 

Edwards:  I think they understand as well as a 7- and 9-year-old can.  You know, they went through the campaign a few years ago; they were younger then.  So, they're sort of used to that.  They're not very impressed with their mother or father being on television, I'll tell you that.  (Laughter)

Scarborough: Bad news for you.  (Laughter)

Edwards: But I think they've gotten used to it.  And now, how well they understand what's happening with Elizabeth's health is impossible to know.  But I can tell you, they are resilient and happy.  They're having fun.  I'm not spending as much time with them as I want to, because I love them to death, and there's a lot of times where I have to be gone from them.  That's the worst part of this campaign is being gone from them.  But they seem to be doing well. 

Scarborough:  Well, good. Well, thank you so much for being with us.  Let Elizabeth know, and your kids and everybody else, that our prayers remain with you all.  I know it's a tough time, a difficult time, but she's just a great example for everybody.  Really inspiring.  Thanks for being with us. 

Edwards:  Thank you, Joe.  Thanks for having me. 

Scarborough:  All right. And Tamron has promised we will run your commercial in a loop for at least 10 minutes in the next hour. (Laughter)

Edwards:  I'm counting on it. 

Scarborough:  All right, Senator.  Thank you for being with us.