"I've Been in Worse Situations"

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TIME
If I could get back to politics—KERRY
I don't talk politics.

TIME
People's views of the strength of your leadership have declined in the past few weeks. Is this in part because you were slow in responding to the Swift Boat ads? Do you wish you had been more aggressive?

KERRY
No, I think we did absolutely fine, and I think we are doing absolutely fine. I think this is a close race, and it's going to be a close race. I think we are doing extraordinarily well. If anybody had told me we'd be points apart from the sitting President of the United States, well, would you have believed them?

I feel very confident in where we are and confident about the direction of this race. And the American people are beginning to listen and listen carefully.

TIME
What did you think of the speech of your Democratic colleague Zell Miller at the Republican Convention?

KERRY
Everybody has the right to give a speech. I didn't see it, and I haven't read it. I didn't see one minute of the convention.

TIME
Our latest poll indicates that terrorism has become the No. 1 issue for voters.

KERRY
I will fight a more effective war on terror, and over the next weeks the American people will see the phoniness of the Bush efforts.

They haven't done port security; they're cutting cops; they haven't taken assault weapons off the streets. Firehouses are opened in Iraq; they're shut in the United States. Port security: 95% of our containers come in, and they are uninspected.

The fact is that these guys talk tough, but they haven't done what is necessary to make America as safe as it can be. There have been more terrorist incidents around the world in the last months than any time in recent history. Whole parts of Iraq are under the control of terrorists, and they never were. Afghanistan is exporting drugs like opium like never before, and whole parts of the country are under the control of the Taliban and terrorists again.

We're in a stronger place than I've been in any campaign I've ever run before. You looked at the polls; there wasn't one of you who said I'd be the nominee. Well, I'm going to win this race because Americans want better leadership.

As we get into those cold days of October and people's juices begin to flow and they measure us one to one, I'm confident that my record of fighting for this country since I was a young man is going to eclipse the disastrous choices that have been made by George Bush.

TIME
One question that has left the President at a loss for words is whether he has had regrets. Do you?

KERRY
I've made mistakes, and I've done things that I regret, sure. I regret voting for Justice Scalia. I regret that any of us put faith in what the President said about how he would take America to war.

TIME
Are you surprised at the bounce Bush got out of his convention?

KERRY
I don't know what you're talking about in terms of the Bush bounce. This is a very close race, and I'm not somebody that runs around worried about polls. If I did, I wouldn't have gotten up last December. Polls don't mean anything to me right now.

I feel really good. We're on an even playing field, and our folks are stoked. All over the country we've got an enormous amount of energy, people are organizing, and I just think the choice is very clear. The Supreme Court of the United States is at stake. After-school programs are at stake. Health care is at stake. Social Security is at stake.

Jobs are at stake. The character of our country is at stake—whether we're going to have people who traffic in fear instead of real solutions.

TIME
It sounds as if you think the Bush strategy is based on scaring the country.

KERRY
I think they are trying to do everything possible to divert attention from the real issues in front of the country, and their entire strategy for six months has been distorting my record and attacking me because they don't have a record to run on.

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