Byline: Jonathan Alter and Arian Campo-Flores
He's notoriously on-message, and relentlessly upbeat. But Sen. John Edwards is beginning to go beyond the well-worn grooves of his successful stump speech and air his plans to defeat John Kerry for the Democratic presidential nomination. NEWSWEEK's Jonathan Alter and Arian Campo-Flores sat down with Edwards on New York's Long Island last Saturday. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: What are the differences between you and Kerry?
EDWARDS: There are multiple differences on economics. One, the difference in our personal stories. Two, I'm the person who's focused much more on what has to be done for the middle class. Three, I have not heard him talk about poverty. I doubt if it would be a priority. I would wake up every single day in the White House and this would be a driving force in my life. I talk about the things that most Americans care about and I care about.
On Iraq, except for the fact that I'm more direct in my answers, there's just not much difference.
Do you have enough foreign-policy experience to be president?
If you look over the last 25 years, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Reagan, Carter--I have more experience in national security and foreign policy than any of them when they came to office. I have been involved in writing legislation after September 11. I've laid out the most comprehensive ideas about how to keep us safe... more than Kerry. But at the end of the day, the most important things are your qualities of leadership, strength of character, judgment.
Are you saying that part of the choice between you and Kerry is a choice between a fall campaign on national security versus one based on economic issues?
Yes. I wouldn't make the point so sharply, because national security is so important. But why in the world would we let George Bush determine the terrain of the debate? Senator Kerry says he can go toe-to-toe with George Bush on national security, but as one of the reporters said at the last debate, that's dead last on the list of issues voters care most about. The first thing people ask about are jobs and the economy. The second is health care. The third is Iraq and national security. Bush wants this to be solely about war, but why would we allow him to [do that] when he's enormously weak on the economy and …