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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

John Kerry Holds Press Conference

Aired December 16, 2002 - 13:39   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: With all this talk about no Gore in 2004, many senators have been coming out and talking about this. First it was Joseph Lieberman, now Senator John Kerry live from Boston. Let's listen in.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It's exceedingly difficult to confront the reality of what he faced in the year 2000 and then to make a decision not to contest again. But I think all of us in the Democratic Party, and everybody in the country, respects enormously his contribution to our country. Certainly we do to our party.

And I'm absolutely confident, beyond any doubt, that Al Gore is going to continue to contribute significantly to the politics and the discussion of our country. He's done so in clear and visionary terms, and I think he'll continue to do that.

So I look forward to working with him in whatever capacity I can, and obviously, I guess, most people know what capacity I hope that will be. But I wish him well, and I look forward, obviously, to following up with him personally.

QUESTION: Does this mean that you have a little less time to ramp up the campaign and get it moving?

KERRY: No. I'm on the same schedule I was on. I said all along that whatever Al Gore did or did not decide to do was not going to affect my personal decision, and I made that clear several weeks ago. I've been on a track to organize a national campaign. I think that is going very well. I'm extraordinarily encouraged by the support I've been getting. And I intend to continue to do it with the same intensity and the same focus that I've applied to it up until now.

QUESTION: Knowing that Al Gore is out, does it change your strategy on how to run?

KERRY: No. Look, I made it clear as I started this journey and I make it clear again today: I'm running because I have a different vision of where our country ought to be going.

I believe that on almost every issue of choice before the country, of major choice -- our economy, how we will create jobs, how we make our tax system fair, how we will have health care for all Americans, how we will clean up our environment, how we will have transportation systems we can be proud of, investing in the long-term future of our nation -- I believe there's a better choice than this administration is offering us.

And I intend to continue to go out and talk about those choices and that vision with our fellow Americans.

QUESTION: Senator, do you think the Democratic Party has a better chance of reclaiming the White House today than it did (OFF- MIKE)?

KERRY: I can't tell you what the chances, that's for all of you to decide. I believe we can win. And the reason I believe we can win, and the reason I'm running, is that I think Americans want to go to a different place.

Just today, in The Washington Post, there's a huge story about how the White House is planning to shift more of the tax burden away from the wealthy onto working people. That's the wrong choice.

I want a tax break for the working American, for the middle class, for those people who have seen it harder and harder to get ahead, while those at the top get ahead more easily.

That's a clear choice for Americans, and that's what I intend to continue to fight for.

QUESTION: Al Gore won the popular vote two years ago. He had more votes than President Bush...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Are you surprised by his decision?

KERRY: No, not completely. I mean, I didn't know which way he'd go, but I know that both choices were on the table. And I could see the reasons for him doing either choice he might have made.

The answer is, no, I was not surprised. And I think, again, I know how personally difficult it is, but I was not surprised.

QUESTION: Did you know anything about this decision in advance?

KERRY: No.

QUESTION: Did you get a sense that more people will not jump into the race beyond the half-dozen that have been talking about it as far as a result of Al Gore's decision?

KERRY: Look, I image there'll be additions to this race for certain. I have no doubt about it. But I began my efforts to explore this some months ago, as you know. I like the track that I'm on. I feel confident about the direction that my campaign is moving. And most importantly, I feel even more energized and more focused than when I began it because of the response I'm feeling from Americans as I talk to them around the country.

So, you know, whoever decides to get in, that's their decision. I've made my decision. I know what I'm doing. And I'm going to continue to fight for the better choices for this country. I keep coming back to that. It's not about me. It's not about our party even. This is about our country and the direction we ought to be moving in.

I happen to believe the principles on which our party is based offer a foundation from which we can make choices that will be more favorable to the average working person and to the security interests of our country -- security for jobs, security for retirement, security for wages, security for health care, education, and finally, personal, physical security and the security of our nation. That's what's at stake here, and that's what I'm going to stay focused on.

QUESTION: Senator Kerry, before the party can make a choice -- before the country can make a choice, the party has to. And Vice President Gore made it clear over the recent months that he was sort of polling the party to get feedback on whether or not he should run. During that time he endorsed single-payer health care and came out with the harshest criticism we've heard yet of the administration's handling of the war.

In the party's rejection of him, do you draw a message about message?

KERRY: Let me say to you very clearly: I ask you to reread my speech to the DLC in New York, my article to the New York Times and my speech on the floor of the Senate. I was the first United States senator to criticize this administration on its approach to Iraq, and I have been clear in the ways in which I think their approach, absent going through the United Nations, absence an imminent threat, is dangerous to our country.

So I will continue to speak out on Iraq as I have previously. And in my judgment, single payer is not the way to go in this country. I don't want a Canadian system. Most Americans don't want a Canadian system, they want a system built on the employer-based structure we have today, which offer people choice and competition.

I will offer the outlines of a plan for universal health coverage. I've been talking about it for the last year. This is not new.

PHILLIPS: Could Senator John Kerry, Democrat from Massachusetts, be the next president in 2004? He's obviously coming forward and taking this opportunity live to talk about the fact that he is running for president.

This comes after Al Gore came out on "60 Minutes" last night saying he will not run for the presidency in 2004. Senator Kerry, the second senator to come forward today, right after Joseph Lieberman, talking about Al Gore taking himself out of the presidential race.

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