WASHINGTON (Talon News) — Appearing in his first interview since losing the 2004 presidential election, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) said that the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 were “the central deciding issue in this race.”

Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, Sen. Kerry was asked by host Tim Russert whether a tape by Usama bin Laden which was released shortly before the election played a role in influencing voters. Kerry responded by saying that his campaign was “rising in the polls up until the last day when the tape appeared.”

“We flat-lined the day the tape appeared and went down on Monday,” Kerry said. “I think it had an impact. But 9/11, you know, it’s a very difficult hurdle when a country is at war.”

Kerry added, “I applauded the president’s leadership in the days immediately afterwards. I thought he did a good job in that, and he obviously connected to the American people in those immediate days. When a country is at war and in the wake of 9/11, it’s very difficult to shift horses in midstream. I think it’s remarkable we came as close as we did as a campaign. Many Republicans say we beat their models by four or five points as to what they thought we could achieve.”

Kerry praised his campaign efforts and referred to Ohio on more than one occasion as the one state where his strategy fell short.

“I am proud of the campaign, Tim,” Kerry said. “And I think if you look at what we did in states, I mean, millions of new voters came into this process. I won the youth vote. I won the independent vote. I won the moderate vote. If you take half the people at an Ohio State football game on Saturday afternoon and they were to have voted the other way, you and I would be having a discussion today about my State of the Union speech.”

Kerry said that the difference in the presidential race was 18 electoral votes or “50,000 [to] 60,000 people changing their votes in one state,” and added that the closeness of the presidential race was a “mandate for unity.”

“[It is not] a mandate to go rushing off to change Social Security, not a mandate to ignore the fiscal crisis of our country, not a mandate to sort of pick some ideological hot buttons and start punching them,” Kerry said. “It is a mandate, as I said in my concession speech, to bring the country together, find the common ground and do things that we need to do to strengthen America.”

Russert then questioned Sen. Kerry on his vote against the confirmation of Dr. Condoleezza Rice, saying, “That’s not finding common ground. She is qualified to hold that job, no?”

“Yes, and I said so,” Kerry replied. “But I also said that she was a principal architect, implementer and defender of a policy that has made the United States of America less secure in the world. … And I think it’s important to have accountability. … But I wasn’t voting on whether she was just qualified. I was voting on the judgments that she brought to the table. I was voting on the answers that she gave us in committee. And I was voting on the vision that she offered to the country. And I found all three, frankly, faulty.”

In addressing the war on terror and especially the situation in Iraq, Kerry said that Iraq is more of a terror threat than it was before Saddam Hussein was removed from power.

“And, in fact, I believe the world is less safe today than it was two and a half years ago,” Kerry added.

Newly-elected Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said in a statement on Sunday that on a day “when all Americans, regardless of party affiliation, are celebrating the growth of freedom and honoring the sacrifices of American and Iraqi troops with elections in Iraq, it’s sad that John Kerry has chosen once again to offer vacillation and defeatism.”

“Even after the first free elections in Iraq in more than 50 years John Kerry still believes Iraq is more of terrorist threat than when the brutal tyrant Saddam Hussein was in power and even more remarkably Kerry is now once again for funding our troops, after being for the funding before he was against it,” Mehlman said.

In speaking with Russert, Kerry said that Americans should not “overhype” the elections in Iraq.

“This election is a sort of demarcation point, and what really counts now is the effort to have a legitimate political reconciliation, and it’s going to take a massive diplomatic effort and a much more significant outreach to the international community than this administration has been willing to engage in,” Kerry said. “Absent that, we will not be successful in Iraq.”

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