This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Jan. 15, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because I am here today not just to count down the days or the hours until Monday. I am here to mark again with you what we're really trying to achieve, which is the beginning of the end of the Bush presidency.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: John Kerry (search) has gone from frontrunner, to dead in the water to right back in it. As we approach the Iowa caucuses, is he doing something different, or is Kerry just going through the normal ups and downs?

Joining me now from Des Moines, Kerry campaign strategist Tad Divine (search). The big question, Mr. Devine, what is behind this eye-popping John Kerry surge in Iowa?

TAD DEVINE, KERRY CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Well, I think Iowa voters are getting real serious about picking a president, and I think they're looking very closely at these candidates. They get to see them up close.

John Kerry's performance in recent weeks has been tremendous. He is talking about issues that people care deeply about. About health care, about an energy policy that makes sense for this country. He is connecting with voters. So I think it's all come together at the right time for him, and I think we have momentum.

GIBSON: ... Kerry is outscoring Dean and Gephardt by a point. And a week ago, Kerry was telling the press, “You guys don't get it, something is going on out here. I feel it. I know it.” You could see the press going, “Oh, right.” I think I saw Tim Russert (search) saying to him, “Sure you are.” But what is it? What has changed in John Kerry that he is connecting to the voters where just a few months ago he was — seemed to be, a man made of stone?

DEVINE: Well, I think his performance as a candidate is superior.... I have seen it. I worked for him in 1996 in a very tough Senate race. He was incredible in the final days of that campaign. And I think that's what the people in Iowa are seeing too. They're seeing someone who wants to stand up and fight for them. They want a candidate who can take on George Bush, who can go toe-to-to-toe with him on foreign policy, on national defense, on military policy. I think people are putting this together. His performance and what voters are looking for are converging at just the right time.

GIBSON: Let's look at one of these problems Kerry had early on. And that was he voted to authorize the war but didn't like the way the president conducted it, and that seemed to be a disconnect. It didn't seem to make sense. So how has he made that make sense to voters in Iowa?

DEVINE: Well, I think he has been very clear about his position on it. He felt at the time that it was the right thing to do and cast that vote, but he has also explained that George Bush did everything wrong when it came to this war. Every action he took, every promise that he made was broken. I think people have had the time to listen, to think about it, and they've also had the time to look at all these candidates, and I think they've measured them one against the other. And I think what they've seen in John Kerry is someone who can take on George Bush and win, and that's the thing that unites all Democrats.

GIBSON: Mr. Devine, let me put this way. I see polls all the time, in which most Americans think the war was the right thing to do. They may complain about the way it was carried out in the end or the aftermath and so forth, but it was the right thing to do. Is John Kerry a guy who would have conducted this war?

DEVINE: Well, I think anybody who knows John Kerry knows that there's no way he would have done what George Bush did. There's no way he would have gone in unilaterally without a broad international consensus. There's no way he would have gone to the country and said things that proved to be untrue.

GIBSON: How would he have convinced Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder who were just going to say no, no matter what? In fact, they did say that they were going to say no, no matter what. How would he have convinced them when they didn't appear to be convincible?

DEVINE: George Bush has claimed preemption as the military policy of this country. He stands for a completely different role and responsibility of America in the world than what John Kerry is fighting for.

I think people have had time to think about this issue now, and they're seeing John Kerry in a whole new light. It is not just a single issue. Howard Dean right now is talking only about the war in his paid advertising... I think that's because he just wants to energize the base that he has here, and he understands that he can no longer reach beyond it. I think John Kerry is reaching beyond, reaching out to all kinds of voters on all kinds of issues. And that's why he is succeeding.

GIBSON: Let's just say your fondest dreams come true and Kerry actually wins the Iowa caucuses. What's going to be the last word on that election?

DEVINE: Well, listen, I think people are going to look at his performance. I think Iowa is a testing ground. You know, this is a caucus where people get to look very closely at the candidates. And I think if John Kerry performed strongly and closes well here in Iowa, I think it's going to be an indication of the strength that he will have in the days to come.

I believe that this is a candidate who can do well not just here in Iowa and later in New Hampshire, but all across the country. We're in a race with delegates. We're going to run a 50-state campaign. And I think John Kerry in the weeks ahead is going to emerge as the strongest candidate on the Democratic side.

GIBSON: Well, Tad Devine, you got everybody watching what you are doing. Congratulations, and hope to talk to you again. Thanks.

DEVINE: Great. Thank you, John.

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