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Inside Politics

Kerry takes aim at GOP criticism, touts record

Calls GOP charges that he's ultra-liberal 'flattery'

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts:
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts: "I don't support the Senate being used to drive wedges."

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MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry said Sunday that GOP attacks on him as an arch-liberal candidate were "so funny" and prove that he is the "strongest person to take on" President Bush.

The senator from Massachusetts told Fox News Sunday that he doesn't look at polls -- including one conducted by Newsweek that showed him beating Bush in a head-to-head race -- and he "hate[s] the word" front-runner.

"I have 35 years of experience in fighting against powerful interests to get things done, that really represent the concerns of people, real people," Kerry said. "I have 35 years of experience in helping America be safer, more secure, in foreign policy, military affairs, security affairs."

He said many of his votes that Republicans have attempted to portray as liberal were "votes of principle" against attempts to "drive wedges" among the American people or were more complex than his opponents have portrayed them.

Kerry said that charges of being ultra-liberal were "flattery."

"As they say in the South, that dog won't hunt," Kerry said, without a trace of a Southern drawl.

Kerry defended his voting record, noting his votes to put more police officers on the streets, to lower the deficit, to stop programs that divert money to special interests.

"And I fought to protect the middle class," he said. "I have voted to create jobs, so I don't think that [charge of liberalism] is going to work."

His votes against Bush's tax cuts -- and the president's warnings that Democrats want to raise taxes -- he said, primarily affected tax cuts for "rich Americans."

"What George Bush is really fighting for, he's fighting this phantom, because I'm not saying, 'Raise taxes,'" he said. "But I am going to roll back the tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, and that's who he's trying to protect."

Kerry said his votes against Bush's tax cuts did not mean he wanted higher taxes.

"No, because I proposed alternative tax cuts," he said. "See, that's what happens. People take one vote, but there are probably about 10 or 15 votes on the same issue, and they're different proposals. I voted against his proposal and in favor of my proposal."

"My proposal is to roll back the wealthy tax cuts, so we can invest in health care for all Americans, and education, and keep the promise George Bush made about leaving no child behind," he said.

He said votes against bills banning same-sex marriages and what abortion opponents call "partial-birth" abortions -- actually a late-term procedure doctors call "intact dilation and extraction" -- were "votes of principle" against attempts by Republicans to divide Americans.

"I don't support marriage among gays," he said. "But I also don't support the United States Senate being used for gay-bashing."

"It's an issue that scares people," he added. "I don't support the Senate being used to drive wedges. There was no issue when we voted on that. That was politics. And I also think it was the politics of discrimination."

Kerry said that he was "against partial birth abortions, as are many people."

"But under the law of the land, I believe it is the constitutional right of the woman to make that choice with respect to her health," he said. "The Republicans didn't want that, because they wanted again to drive a wedge."

About his push to cut funding to U.S. intelligence agencies in the mid-1990s, Kerry said the idea was to cut out expensive high-tech equipment in favor of lower cost -- and often more reliable -- human intelligence resources.

"I've always been somebody who has felt we needed human intelligence," he said. "That's our failure. That was the failure with respect to 9-11. That remains the greatest gap in our intelligence."

Kerry characterized his vote against the 1991 Gulf War as a vote for waiting to build enough coalition support to be able to "kick Saddam Hussein out of Iraq," and his vote for war in 2002 as one based on Bush's promises to "build a legitimate international coalition, exhaust the remedies of the United Nations, and go to war as a last resort."

"He broke every single one of those promises," he said.

In his only mention of a Democratic candidate by name, Kerry responded to former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's criticisms of that vote by saying he wondered "when he's going to stop running the negative campaign he said he was going to stop running."

Kerry shied away from accusing the president of misleading Americans about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction, but was more targeted about the vice president.

"I believe that Dick Cheney exaggerated, clearly," he said. "I think there's been an enormous amount of exaggeration, stretching, deception. And the question is still unanswered as to what Dick Cheney was doing over at the CIA personally in those weeks leading up to the war."

"I know the vice president either misspoke or misled the American people, but he did so in a way that gave Congressmen and women, who have since said -- I mean, very good people, good Americans who voted in good conscience -- have stood up and said, 'I was misled,'" Kerry said. "This administration has to be accountable for that. And they haven't yet accounted for it."

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