Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry is crossing the country in a two-week blitz after winning his party's nomination last week in his hometown of Boston. He turned first to the Midwest, and Ohio, seen as the most important battleground state in the race for the presidency. He sat down to talk with Blade Political Writer Fritz Wenzel after his rally in Bowling Green:
Q: I want to talk specifically about this campaign trip first. You are not going to the big cities. You are going to the little cities within a stone's throw of the bigger cities. What is the thinking?
A: We just want to get out and talk to real Americans. We want to get out to places we haven't been. We want to get to heartland America and listen to people and talk to people, and to have them be able to hear our plans. I think that a lot of folks in these areas often get overlooked and feel overlooked. We want this campaign to be as inclusive and as broad-based as possible.
Q: This is a traditionally Republican area.
A: Yeah, but you know, I am glad. I want to talk to Republicans. In fact, I kicked myself afterwards because I meant to talk to them more directly. Now I can do it through you, because I think Republicans need to look hard at what's happening in the country.
My wife was a Republican. I got a lot of family members who were Republicans. I think that my plans are more in keeping with the hopes of a lot of Republicans than what George Bush is doing. If you are a conservative and you are a Republican, you care about deficits, you care about fiscal responsibility. I've been a fiscal hawk since I came to the Senate. I led the fight in '85 to balance the budget. I was part of the fight in '93 and '97. I've promised 'Pay as you go' as America's standard when I am President.
Q: But you can't run a war like that, can you?
A: Sure you can. I tried to do it. I offered an amendment. That's what they are criticizing me for, because I voted to pay for the $87 billion by reducing the tax cut from $690 billion over 10 years to $600 billion. I mean, do you really think that everybody in the top 1.5 percent couldn't have chipped in for the war? I think that's fiscally responsible. I think that is patriotic.
Q: When you think about NAFTA, you're getting hit here in Ohio for having supported it. At your campaign stops you talk about needing to enforce it.
A: In NAFTA, there are enforceable provisions, three of them with respect to labor itself. They haven't enforced them. Tell me why? Why did we put them in? We put them in to protect people so they wouldn't get hurt unfairly. So there's nothing inconsistent with that. Over the last five years, I've been fighting hard, saying we ought to be negotiating trade agreements that have labor standards and environment standards in them, so that we are raising the expectations on the other sides, and that's the kind of relationship that I believe in in trade.
Q: I talked to people out here today after your speech who said they don't really feel like they know you, though you have been running for President for probably two years. Why is that?
A: Because it takes time. Bill Clinton told me that when he won the nomination in June, he and Hillary were stunned to find out how few people really knew anything about them or knew them. This is the period where Americans kind of get to know you, and what is happening is people are coming out and listening and getting to know you, and getting to know us. They see us on TV. The convention is sort of the launching pad for the moment when people begin to get to know you.
Q: My last question has to do with how they [the Bush campaign] have framed [Kerry] in [television] ads. Have you seen the flip-flop ads?
A: No. I haven't seen it.
Q: Do you worry about what impact that definition of you is going to have on your race?
A: I have to believe that Americans kind of look you in the eye, look you in the gut, listen to you carefully, check things out, go to the Web sites, look at the records. I'm not sure that all that stuff is that believable. I don't know the answer, though. I'm sure it's had some impact because I've seen it in some polling data.