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Jewish World Review Jan. 29, 2004 / 6 Shevat, 5764

Roger Simon

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A conversation with John Kerry | WASHINGTON — The following is a conversation I had with John Kerry shortly before his victory in New Hampshire and shortly after his victory in Iowa.

Q: Before Iowa, you were counted out. The polls in New Hampshire had you losing by incredible percentages. You were even behind in your home state of Massachusetts. Did you ever feel you were washed up?

Kerry: I always believed I would win Iowa. I can't say the "prevailing wisdom" didn't provide a hurdle. It made winning harder. The polls in New Hampshire caused people to miss what I was doing in Iowa. But I felt confident. I am confident about who I am. I thought if I could get out there with my message, people would listen. I have the strongest and longest record of anyone in this field of taking on powerful special interests and fighting for change and for values that make a difference. And that is what this race is about. People want somebody who is on their side, who is fighting for them.

Q: Why are you connecting now?

Kerry: Because I am really talking from my heart and gut. That's what people want. They want something that is real. They are tired of the politics of broken promises. I believe politics can be the noble profession that John Kennedy called it when he summoned us to it. And I am frustrated by it because right now it is a trail of broken promises and empty hollow rhetoric. And of partisan divisiveness.

Q: But what is working now that didn't work before?

Kerry: You have to show people your heart.

Q: It can't be faked?

Kerry: People are very smart. People are absolutely penetrating in their ability to know whether it's authentic or not.

Q: How did you make the decision to shift resources to Iowa?

Kerry: Common sense told me to spend time and resources in Iowa. It was like my decisions to shake up the campaign. You had to change the dynamic. That is what leadership is about — making decisions. I had a great sense of confidence in what I was saying and just go and talk to people personally.

Q: It was a surprisingly large victory.

Kerry: I won the colleges. I won every college but one or two. I won anti-war voters. I won what people would have thought were improbably demographics by getting out and getting the message out. He (Dean) spent two years there. I always believed it was possible to win, but that doesn't guarantee an outcome, but it motivates you. I believed in myself. I believed in my candidacy. I believe it now. I believe I can win this nomination. I believe I can beat George Bush.

Q: What led you to believe you could win?

Kerry: The response I was getting from people was there was a disconnect between (the polls) and reality. That gave me confidence. People were coming up to me and saying, "I was for Howard Dean, but now I am for you.'

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Q: You think there is nothing wrong with being a "Washington Democrat," a national legislator?

Kerry: I respect the knowledge and legislative skills of most of my colleagues. Some don't.

Q: The Vietnam war is a big part of your campaign and a big part of your life.

Kerry: No. The Vietnam War is not (a big part of my campaign), my life experience is. Vietnam is one part of it. But I also offer up and talk about my experiences as a prosecutor, as a lieutenant governor. The theme is delivering to the American people, making government accountable, making it work for people.

Q: Both you and John Edwards have been talking about two Americas, the haves and the have-nots. Is that the same as Al Gore's "people vs. the powerful" message?

Kerry: I talk a lot about the excessive power of the special interests. But I don't like (Gore's) framing of it. It is too divisive and a little bit shrill. But I do believe that most reasonable business people concede the excess of influence that money has in American politics. But there are certainly powerful people who also fight for the right things. The simple word is: Yes, there are powerful special interests that have worked their will on legislative process by throwing a lot of money around Washington and they have undermined the legitimate interests of the broad base of America.

Q: Will Bush be a better campaigner this year than he was four years ago?

Kerry: Absolutely. He's been president for three and half years, he is well briefed and he has had a lot of practice. He has the cocoon and power of the presidency. And it is not inconsiderable. But I still have confidence I can beat him. He'll have money; they have money. We have ideas and the people. That is a powerful countervailing force.

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