The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008


What Does the Kerry Endorsement Mean?

By Chris Cillizza, The Fix
The news that Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) plans to endorse Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) later today in South Carolina should provide the Illinois senator's campaign with a day (or two) of positive press following his surprising loss to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) in New Hampshire.

But, as loyal Fix readers know, we have long been skeptical of the power of a single endorsement -- even if it is by a former Democratic presidential nominee. So, what does Kerry's endorsement really get Obama?

In conversations with several current and former advisers to the Massachusetts senator, two immediate benefits become clear.

First, Kerry still carries a 3 million-plus person e-mail list from his run for president in 2004. That is, without question, the largest list of small-dollar donors within the party and one that Obama should benefit from in the very near future. Kerry showed in the 2006 election that the list responds when he asks it for money -- even for House and Senate candidates -- so it should be a financial windfall for Obama's campaign.

Second, Kerry still has the remnants of a national operation in nearly every state. That means donors, activists and operatives who know these states and will be able to add to the already large team of Obama backers around the country. Local knowledge and on-the-ground operatives are crucial to winning any of these early contests and could even prove decisive if Obama winds up as the nominee and is looking for people with in-depth knowledge of the general election battleground states.

One former Kerry adviser, granted anonymity to speak about the endorsement before it became public, said that the Massachusetts senator has a "really, really great" organization in South Carolina that should help Obama in the state's Jan. 26 primary. (It's worth nothing, however, that Kerry lost the South Carolina primary in 2004 by 15 points.)

Aside from those two practical components, Kerry's support for Obama could have powerful symbolic weight as well. One of the central questions still surrounding Obama is whether he is up to the job of president, whether he carries the requisite experience after just a few years in the Senate to serve as commander in chief. Kerry, a decorated military man and experienced hand in foreign affairs, can help to validate that Obama is indeed up to the challenge.

"Rank and file Democrats view [Kerry] favorably and see him as a serious person," said one source close to the Massachusetts senator. "If he says Obama is 'ready' it will reassure many who were unsure."

While most neutral observers believe that Kerry's endorsement is almost certain to aid Obama as he seeks to reassure the establishment he is ready, there are certain to be some dissenting voices that draw comparisons between this endorsement and former Vice President Al Gore's decision to back former Gov. Howard Dean (Vt.) in the days leading up to the 2004 Iowa caucuses.

At the time, Gore's endorsement was seen as the final piece of the puzzle for Dean, the establishment validation that his insurgent campaign required in order to close the deal. What it turned out to be, however, was the beginning of the end as many loyal Deaniacs saw their beloved candidate being reined in by the party establishment and reacted negatively.

The comparison is facile but not necessarily spot on. Unlike Dean, Obama has proven -- with his win in the Iowa caucuses -- that his campaign is more than simply a fun idea. Obama, unlike Dean, turned out thousands of new voters in the Hawkeye State and, in doing so, showed that his appeal was not just theoretical but practical.

That Kerry decided to endorse Obama should not come as a surprise to anyone who has watched the political goings-on closely over the last few years.

Kerry and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) who shared the national ticket in 2004 were never particularly close and both sides made clear after the loss that they were none too pleased with the efforts of the other man on their behalf. Clinton could have been in the Kerry endorsement sweepstakes but those close to the Massachusetts senator note that he felt betrayed by the former first lady when just before the 2006 election she labeled as "inappropriate" a joke Kerry had told that if students didn't study hard enough they could "get stuck in Iraq."

Kerry's endorsement is the first major blow in the battle between Clinton and Obama for Democratic establishment support in the post-New Hampshire primary nomination fight. Between now and Feb. 5, each side is certain to try to one-up the other with various endorsement from party leaders in key early states -- witness Rep. Shelly Berkley's (Nev.) backing of Clinton yesterday -- in an attempt to show that the party poobahs are lining up behind their candidacy.

Our guess is that Clinton and Obama will both get enough major endorsements to neutralize their effect. And, remember, that voters tend to factor endorsements into their decision-making process but rarely use an endorsement to make up their minds. This nomination fight will ultimately be won not by the candidate with more endorsements but by the candidate who can best convince the American people that he or she shares their vision for the future of the country.

Posted at 11:21 AM ET on Jan 10, 2008
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When I registered on back in 2001 one of the items in the privacy policy stated: "We work closely with Democratic candidates... If - and only if - you give your consent, we may share some basic contact information with them, and they may contact you." So I agreed, since John Kerry promised not to GIVE away my personal information without my consent. No updates were ever sent to me on any policy change. (Yes I saved them all). Imagine my discern when I receive an email from the Barach Obama campaign on Jan 11, 2008, addressed to me personally, asking me to visit to support Obama. This kind of sneaky, 'give away my 3 million contacts without their permission' association between the Kerry camp and the Obama camp left me with the impression that Obama is just as inexperienced and desperate as John Kerry was in the 2002 election. No Obama! Rhetoric is not experience. Experience is Experience!!!

Posted by: saamm2006 | January 18, 2008 10:47 PM

With friends like Kerry who needs enemies.

Posted by: leroyh | January 11, 2008 5:22 PM

A comment for "usadblake" - I'm not sure where you get your information about John Kerry's service record in Vietnam. He served his country well. Earned his purple hearts just all the other vets of the Vietnam War and he wasn't asked to resign, he asked for a discharge in order to run for political office.

You take the swift boat ads as fact when they were far from it. it's been shown that the ads distorted and misrepresented the facts and made other false claims by the people behind the ads, and also in the ads.

Do a little research on the subject (,, among thousands of other articles).

Posted by: ssejhill | January 10, 2008 2:08 PM

Barack Obama for President of the UNITED States of America.

Posted by: PulSamsara | January 10, 2008 1:42 PM

Kerry had his chance and blew it.

Aren't there any pressing world issues he can focus his energies on.

Posted by: hhkeller | January 10, 2008 1:39 PM

"An endorsement from Kerry is an embarrassment to any recipient.
"Kerry, a decorated military man"? He disgraced himself in Vietnam by gaming the system for Purple Hearts he didn't begin to deserve; was essentially thrown out of Vietnam by his fellow officers; then spent 35 years masquerading as a war hero, until unmasked by "Unfit for Command.""

It's too bad people like Mike Mahl have no critical thinking skills. So let's see, um, Swiftboat Veterans for Truth have a monopoly on the truth? Go listen to Rush and leave reasoning voters to have the intellectual discussions.

Posted by: jfaulk | January 10, 2008 1:11 PM

This announcement makes me sorry I ever supported (voted for) John Kerry -- what he is screams so loudly that I cannot hear a word he says. I only hope that now he will go very far away and we never have to hear from him again . . .

Posted by: sas727 | January 10, 2008 12:55 PM

kerry has emailed. i like he started out with an MLK quote. take that, clintons.

Hi Friend,

Martin Luther King said, "The time is always right to do what is right." So I'm choosing this time to share an important decision I've made, one I believe is right for this country.

The community has been very important to me and very important to the Democratic resurgence over the last couple of years, so I wanted to let all of you know my decision before I confirm it with anyone else. I want to share with you my conviction that in a field of fine Democratic candidates, the next President of the United States can be, should be, and will be Barack Obama. Each of our candidates would make a fine President, and we are blessed with a strong field. But for this moment, at this time in our nation's history, Barack Obama is the right choice.

Please join me in supporting Barack Obama's candidacy.

I'm proud to have helped introduce Barack to our nation when I asked him to speak to our national convention, and there Barack's words and vision burst out. On that day he reminded Americans that our "true genius is faith in simple dreams, an insistence on small miracles." And with his leadership we can build simple dreams, and we can turn millions of small miracles into real change for our country.

At this particular moment, with our country faced with great challenges in our economy, in our environment, and in our foreign policy, and with our politics torn by division, Barack Obama can bring transformation to our country. With Barack, we can build a new majority of Americans from all regions who can turn the page on the politics of Karl Rove and begin a new politics, one worthy of our nation's history and promise. We can bring millions of disaffected people - young and old - to the great task of governing and making a difference, child to child, community to community.

Please click here to give what you can to Barack Obama's campaign for President and help build this future for our country.

The moment is now, and the candidate for this moment is Barack Obama. Like him, I also lived abroad as a young man, and I share with him a healthy respect for the advantage of knowing other cultures and countries, not from a book or a briefing, but by personal experience, by gut, by instinct. He knows the issues from the deep study of a legislator, and he knows them from a life lived outside of Washington. His is the wisdom of real-world experience combined with the intellect of a man who has thought deeply about the challenges we face.

History has given us this moment. But we need to decide what to do with it. I believe, with this moment, we should make Barack Obama President of the United States.

Please join me in supporting his campaign.

Posted by: bchols | January 10, 2008 12:52 PM

I believe hope is incremental and about humility and perseverance in the face of formidable hurdles in front of us. Hope is also the most weightiest motivation that derives us into action, which is voting for Obama obviously.
So, any small gain is appreciated by Obama supporters and Sen. Kerry is not a small person by the way.

Posted by: mkk0918 | January 10, 2008 12:49 PM

Maybe the analysis of whether Kerry's mailing list benefits the Democratic nominee he endorses or the other way around needs further investigation.

I, for one, distinctly recall un-subscribing myself from Kerry's mailing list just a couple of months ago when it peddled Hillary. Perhaps that was a trial balloon.

I'll get back on the Kerry list if he indeed stands behind Obama as a heavy-weight surrogate who can remind Bill the fairytale of wasting two missiles to get out of Monica gate!

Posted by: jay | January 10, 2008 12:35 PM

The main significance is that he did NOT endorse Hillary or Edwards.

Posted by: zb95 | January 10, 2008 12:32 PM

An endorsement from Kerry is an embarrassment to any recipient.
"Kerry, a decorated military man"? He disgraced himself in Vietnam by gaming the system for Purple Hearts he didn't begin to deserve; was essentially thrown out of Vietnam by his fellow officers; then spent 35 years masquerading as a war hero, until unmasked by "Unfit for Command."

"Rank and file Democrats view [Kerry] favorably and see him as a serious person."? Much of the country sees him as pathetic, ineffectual bloviator

Posted by: mikemahl | January 10, 2008 12:26 PM

Today a hype tomorrow?

Are Congressional Endorsements 'Overrated'?


Posted by: usadblake | January 10, 2008 12:04 PM

Well, I think that Romney, Huckabee,or McCain would be the best choice for America's future -- Obama wouldn't even be a U.S. Senator if it weren't for key endorsements after Hull & Ryan pulled out of the race -- too bad the South Carolina Democrats refused to allow Colbert to enter that race!

Posted by: JakeD | January 10, 2008 11:26 AM

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