Kerry: People Still Can Be Swayed

ABC News' Peter Jennings interviewed Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry on Saturday, during the final weekend of the campaign. In an excerpt from the interview, the man challenging President Bush said he believes he can win converts through the final days of the race.

PETER JENNINGS: You're in the final motivation phase. Are you going to win any people now? Are are you just going to get your own?



JENNINGS: -- people to turn out.

KERRY: No, I am going to win people now. And I believe I'm going to win people now, Peter, because there are still people undecided, number one. And number two, I think there are people -- even if they say they're committed to somebody -- they're still thinking about it.

And in a presidential race, those last hours tend to have a seriousness, a kind of weight that nobody can describe accurately. When somebody walks into that polling booth, our future as a country -- their future as a family, their hopes, their dreams -- are all on the ballot suddenly.

And I believe I have a better set of choices for America than the president in almost everything -- on the deficit, on responsibility, in foreign policy, how we make ourselves safe. So I'm hoping in these last hours we're going to see more movement, and I think it already is moving in our direction.

Edge in Fighting Terror?

Later, Kerry argued he's got more experience in foreign policy, and therefore would be a better terror-fighter than Bush, though polls suggest Americans believe otherwise.

JENNINGS: Osama bin Laden has imposed himself on the American people again, and your Republican competitors think this works for them if it works for anybody, and some of your supporters think it might cost you the election.

KERRY: I think it's unfortunate that anybody puts Osama bin Laden into any political context in the United States' election. I'm outraged that he has appeared. I'm outraged that he inserts himself in any kind of way into the electoral process of America. And I think that Americans are clear in their willingness and ability to make this decision based on what's good for America and where we're heading. Let me tell you something: I can fight --

JENNINGS: Can I interrupt you for one second, sir? I apologize.

KERRY: Sure. Absolutely.

PETER JENNINGS: In fact, it was some of your surrogates who made it as much a political issue, right at the beginning --


KERRY: Well, they shouldn't. I don't want them doing that.

JENNINGS: -- and even before the Republicans.

KERRY: Well, I don't want them doing that. I think that's wrong. I think that every American is outraged at the sight of Osama bin Laden and at anything that he says about the American electoral process.

I'm going to hunt down, capture or kill the terrorists, and I believe I will wage a far more effective war on terror than George Bush has, Peter.

I know I can do a better job of bringing allies to the table to help make America safe. I know I can do a better job of homeland security, where they haven't even done what's necessary to protect our passengers flying properly, they haven't done what's necessary to protect our ports. They're cutting cops from the streets. They still haven't done what's necessary to protect chemical and nuclear plants.

I will do a better job of funding and directing America's homeland security, and I know I'll do a better job of bringing other countries to our side."

JENNINGS: But whatever you might wish at the moment, the Osama bin Laden videotape is now a part of the final days of the presidential election campaign. And if you judge by the polls, the president has a country mile on you in terms of handling terrorism.

KERRY: Well, I disagree with that. I don't know what polls you're looking at, but the fact is that America knows that I bring 35 years of experience -- more experience than George Bush has -- in foreign affairs and national security affairs.

I have been involved with other countries with arms control and with terrorism over these years -- I wrote a book on it -- before President Bush even became president.

I will do a better job of protecting America than George Bush has. George Bush rushed to war without a plan to win the peace. He sent our troops into battle without the armor that they need, without armored humvees. We've got young kids being wounded today because the state of preparedness of this administration to wage a war.

Ninety percent of the coalition casualties are American. Ninety percent of the costs of this war are being borne by American taxpayers. I think that's inexcusable. And I can do a better job of, number one, training Iraqis, number two, getting the elections held, number three, getting money to the Iraqi people in a way that changes their lives -- not money to Halliburton and to the security corporations -- and number four, I can do a better job of bringing allies to the table.

Those are the ingredients of success.

Campaign Fatigue

JENNINGS: Is it not appropriate to admit at the moment that you're exhausted?

KERRY: I'm not exhausted. I'm tired. You wind up, obviously, at a pace that's absolutely extraordinary, but I feel very, very fit. I feel, actually, in much better shape right now than I did during the primaries. I was suffering from bronchitis or something then, and I'm a hundred percent straight ahead here, and I feel good.

JENNINGS: You and your Democratic colleagues made much of the president's failure, as far as you were concerned. Could I ask you three things in the campaign you perhaps wish you had not done or not said, and what you might have learned from them?

KERRY: I just am not in a position to stop about this campaign right now. I mean I've made mistakes along the way in this campaign for certain -- either in things I've said or judgments I've made. But I've got two and a half days left, Peter, not to evaluate the past, but to talk about the future.

Have I made a lot of mistakes over the course of time? Absolutely, and I'm ready to admit what they are, as senator or otherwise.

Too Close to Call?

JENNINGS: I think, by common agreement at the moment, Election Night looks like it may be very close. I'd like to know what your criteria are for challenging the election or perhaps conceding it. What are your standards?

KERRY: I don't have any. I mean I'm going to see what the results of the election are and how people vote, and my standard is who has the most votes and who wins the Electoral College.

JENNINGS: And what will you do if there are many, many challenges on election night?

KERRY: Well, we have to see what they are and where they are. I don't think there are going to be. I'm expecting a record turnout. I think Americans are determined not to have a repeat of the year 2000. We have 10,000 lawyers that we have enlisted over the last months, all across the country, to guarantee that people's right to vote is protected. We have already challenged efforts to suppress Democratic votes. Democratic registrations were found in the wastebasket in Nevada.

A Republican state senator in Michigan was quoted as saying, "We have to suppress the vote in Detroit in order to win." A list was put out in Florida -- people to be purged from the rolls -- that was knowingly incorrect. We've challenged each of those.

JENNINGS: Well, you brought up a number of subjects -- fraud, disenfranchisement, and the challenge to the election itself. Do you have some percentage in mind? If the vote is, for example, 2 percent separation between you and Mr. Bush, [would that be] worthy of a challenge?

KERRY: Peter, I'm going to wait and see how America votes and what happens, and I'll make a decision when I see what the facts are. I'm not going to speculate.

JENNINGS: And does this mean that you will go for broke if you think a challenge requires it?

KERRY: I'll do what's necessary to protect the constitutional right of Americans to vote.

JENNINGS: You think the bar should be particularly high for a challenge or for a concession, given that the country's at war?

KERRY: I think the presidency of the United States always requires the highest standards and the highest bar, but the presidency of the United States also requires the certitude to Americans that votes have been counted.

JENNINGS: And what if there is a Florida-like situation, again?

KERRY: We've laid the groundwork to be able to protect the constitutional right of Americans to vote. That's what's at stake -- not me, not George Bush -- the right of Americans, the greatest democracy on the face of the planet, to lift people up and show them how democracy works.

JENNINGS: You, sir, and your party have spent a lot of time focused on what you would call the disenfranchisement of some of the voters.


JENNINGS: Republicans see it from another point of view. They think there's a potential for fraud. What have you done, as the leader of your party, to make sure there will be no fraud?

KERRY: There's not going to be any fraud on our part. That's the job of election officials. All I want to make sure is that the duly registered people are, in fact, allowed to vote and their votes are counted, 'cause last time, they weren't.

JENNINGS: Are you saying there's nothing to these Republican claims about fraud, and that they're using this to intimidate your voters?

KERRY: I think they are, and I have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of any instance of fraud. Wherever it exists, I will join with President Bush in taking it to the Justice Department and in making sure that people are duly prosecuted. They ought to be.

Republican Relations

JENNINGS: Your No. 1 commitment is to passing a health care bill. In all likelihood, you'll face a Republican House of Representatives and perhaps a Republican Senate. Talk to us about the real world. Would you rather have all of your health care proposals enacted, or would you be prepared to accept less if it meant you had a bipartisan relationship with the Republicans in the Congress?

KERRY: Well, I'm going to have a bipartisan relationship, Peter. I think one of the most important responsibilities that I will assume as president is to unite the country.

JENNINGS: No, I'm sorry. What's the evidence for you being the great uniter here? The three people you will have to work across the aisle with -- Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, the Minority Leader or the Majority Leader of the House Tom Delay, and --

KERRY: Well, let's wait and see the outcome of the election. [LAUGHS]

JENNINGS: You accept their ideas?

KERRY: Many of them! Absolutely!

Careless with Words?

JENNINGS: The president and his supporters say that you're careless with words and that that is damaging in the course of the campaign, but dangerous if you became a president.

KERRY: This comes from the American who said, "Bring 'em on!"? This comes from the man who stood up on an aircraft carrier and said "Mission accomplished" when it wasn't accomplished? This comes from the man who, in Cincinnati, said he would take "every precaution, only go with our allies, and plan carefully," and went to war without enough troops? And went to war without the body armor for our troops?

I'm very careful with my words. Very careful.

JENNINGS: Final question, sir, I hope it's not too personal -- what are the last three things you do at night before -- put aside personal matters -- before you turn out the lights and prepare for another Election Day?

KERRY: It depends entirely where I am and what I'm doing. I pray every day, not always last thing before I go to bed, but I pray every day. It depends. Probably talking to my wife is about the last thing I do on the campaign trail. We talk every day, several times a day. Sometimes, if I'm preparing a speech, I'm reading the speech, and I fall asleep and I wake up a few hours later, and glasses are on the floor and the speech is on my stomach, and that's where I am. It depends.

JENNINGS: You don't toss and turn.

KERRY: I don't toss and turn one single bit.