The Democrats' Counter-RNC Strategy

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Aug. 30, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Senator With a white-hot spotlight focused on the Republican National Convention (search), Democrats are doing their best to get their message across. Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack joins me now. Governor, today's big question: What are the Democrats going to do this week to get their message across?

TOM VILSACK, GOVERNOR OF IOWA: Well, we're going to focus on the fact that George Bush (search) landed on an aircraft carrier a number of months ago saying, mission accomplished in Iraq. He's gone around the country suggesting that this economy is as good as it ever can be. Mission accomplished. Not so. Mission not accomplished, both on Iraq, the economy, health care, lots of issues where the missions has not been accomplished.

GIBSON: I'm a little confused. What are the Democrats, pro-war or anti-war? The nominee seems to be marginally pro-war. The platform seems to be anti-war.

VILSACK: I tell you, Democrats are for a strong America. They are for America that responds very quickly to terrorist attacks. We are not for an America as George Bush suggested today that we cannot win this war on terror. We believe it can be won and it should be won and it will be won.

GIBSON: I'm not sure what he meant by that, but what do you mean by it can be won?

VILSACK: We can make the world a safer place for our children and for our children's children. Mayor Giuliani is going to compare George Bush today to Winston Churchill (search). I don't remember Winston Churchill ever suggesting that we couldn't beat the Nazis. I don't remember him ever suggesting that. I think what he said was, we are going to fight them every single place where we can and we're going to defeat them. That's essentially what I expect from my president. I don't expect my president to suggest we can't win the war on terror.

GIBSON: What is about what President Bush has done that makes you think he is indecisive or unable to knuckle down to try to win a war against terrorists? Aside from this comment to one of the morning shows, what evidence is there that he doesn't think he can win?

VILSACK: How about cutting Homeland Security funding? How about shifting resources away from states that are important like mine, to communities like New York and having to choose between New York City or the state of Iowa, having to choose between large metropolitan areas and your food supply? That's a choice that America should not have to make. We can win this war on terror but we're going to have to adequately finance it. We can't cut back the police officers and the firefighters and the first responders that are so important to winning this war, John.

GIBSON: Governor, this is what Senator Kerry has been criticized for, that I'm for the same thing Bush is. I can just do it better. He's been criticized as that maybe just a tad too nuanced for the American voter?

VILSACK: There is nothing nuanced about having fewer firefighters and fewer cops and fewer EMTs responding to a terrorist attack. There's nothing nuanced about the president of the United States basically telling the world today, we are not going to win this war on terror.

GIBSON: You don't believe that's what he said, do you?

VILSACK: I believe it because I heard it.

GIBSON: I mean you believe that's what he meant?

VILSACK: I heard it and he said it; he said it twice. So it's pretty clear that the president knew exactly what he was saying in response to the question.

GIBSON: What do you think he meant?

VILSACK: I think he meant that he wasn't confident in his ability and this administration's ability to win this war on terror.

GIBSON: You believe that he doesn't think he was confident enough to lead the American military and whatever resources we have to win the war on terror or that it was an open ended proposition?

VILSACK: It's not just military. This is, by the way, the president that first of all did not want a homeland security department, then embraced it. This is a president who wants to reform the intelligence community, but his secretary of defense is objecting to that. This is a president that understands that there is very serious problems with his approach to the war on terror, not the least of which is we are reducing the amount of resource for Homeland Security. That's not how you make American safer.

GIBSON: How much is the economy going to play on what you guys have to say this week?

VILSACK: Well, we're not satisfied and I don't think any American should be satisfied with 1.8 million fewer private sector jobs. We're not satisfied with Americans income going down the last three years. We're not satisfied with the jobs that are being replaced in this economy paying $9,000 less a year. We're certainly not satisfied with health care costs out of control and we're not satisfied with energy costs out of control or college tuition costs out of control. So clearly the economy is a critical component to a Kerry-Edwards victory in November.

GIBSON: Senator Tom Vilsack of Iowa here with the Kerry message during the Republican convention. Governor, thanks a lot.

VILSACK: You bet, John.

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