Transcript: Is Time Off Hurting Kerry's Campaign?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, April 1, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A couple of times lifting babies and doing, you know, yes, I felt it a little bit.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: John Kerry (search) won't be bouncing any babies or tossing that football around JFK style for the cameras after having shoulder surgery. But what about his political health?

Kerry has been keeping a low profile when he could, perhaps should, be going after President Bush. Having surgery on a ski vacation before that cost him valuable campaign time. Democratic media strategist Steve Murphy joins me from D.C. Steve, the big question. Did Kerry screw up by taking time off?

STEVE MURPHY, DEMOCRATIC MEDIA STRATEGIST: No, I don't think, John, that he screwed up at all taking time off. We've got to take the case to George W. Bush that he's taking this country in the wrong direction. It's going to be a long arduous campaign. John Kerry had to fight for over a year to win that nomination and had to come from pretty far behind to do so. He did it in admirable fashion.

GIBSON: All right, Steve, you're giving him his props. Now, you're not completely happy with the way the campaign is handling itself this early now. What would you be telling them to do differently than they're doing?

MURPHY: I would like to see the Kerry campaign really take it to George W. Bush on the economy, on jobs, on issues like tax cuts for the wealthy, on issues like the $87 billion. We're on the winning side there, John, and I want to see him stick it to him.

GIBSON: You're making my point for me. I mean, Kerry was going after Bush on just those points, right after the primaries pretty much settled he was going to be the nominee, he goes on vacation. He has a shoulder problem. Once again, are they screwing up by keeping him away from microphones?

MURPHY: John, I thought John Kerry needed a little break. After campaigning for well over a year, he made a couple of minor mistakes on the campaign trail. This is a strong, disciplined candidate when he's rested. But you can't expect somebody to go for two years straight. George W. Bush spent a month in Crawford, Texas, during some toughest times in this country.

GIBSON: You think that this is not a time that's really going to upset the momentum of the Kerry campaign, as a lot of Democratic strategists are whispering now? You think that this is good down time is fine, he rests up and goes back at it and he'll be in just as good a shape?

MURPHY: Yes, I do. But I really think the critical factor here is the Kerry campaign is retooling for a general election where we've got to take it to George W. Bush. That's what I want to see them do. I don't want to see the Kerry campaign on the defensive on issues like the $87 billion for Iraq or on tax cuts for the wealthy. Those are winning issues for Democrats.

GIBSON: But that's where he's had his problem. The president chased Kerry around, wherever Kerry was going, the Bush team was running advertisements, talking about Kerry flip flopping on the $87 billion. I'm for it, I'm against it. I voted both ways. And Bush has come up in the polls and Kerry has suffered. What is it that Kerry is doing wrong, Steve?

MURPHY: I don't think that Bush has come up in the polls because of those attacks. The Kerry campaign has answered those attacks very well. John Kerry raised $40 million in the first quarter. That's a record for a Democrat. I think what happened here, John, I think this is very important for a political analyst to note. John Kerry got a bump after winning the nomination, just like a candidate usually gets after the convention. This is an unprecedented fashion in which he's won the Democratic nomination. It's natural to come down a little bit from that high. And for whatever reason, the president's approval rating has been fluctuating up and down, five percentage points from the high 40's to the low 50's. It's at a high point right now for whatever reason. I don't think that has anything to do with his attacks on John Kerry. It's an even race right now. We're going to see an even race in the fall and we need a candidate ready to take it to Bush.

GIBSON: Quickly, before I run out of time. Did Kerry have to take this break to get on the phone to ask people to write those checks, to raise that $40 million? Is that why he's been out of the action?

MURPHY: No, I don't think so, not at all. He took a real break. He went on vacation to his home in Idaho. He has a great fundraising effort. It overwhelmed the rest of the Democratic field. And it going to compete real well with George W. Bush.

GIBSON: Steve Murphy, Democratic media strategist. Steve, it's always good to talk to you. Thanks.

MURPHY: Thank you.

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