Sweet column: Why Kerry helps Obama

SHARE Sweet column: Why Kerry helps Obama

CHARLESTON, S.C. — On a warm Thursday at a historic campus where moss hung from trees, White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) picked up a major endorsement from Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the 2004 presidential nominee.

“I’m here in South Carolina because this is the right time to share with you my confidence that the next president of the United

The Kerry endorsement brings many things to the Obama campaign. It is surgically timed. Kerry’s nod comes as the Jan. 26 South Carolina primary is heating up — the only state that John Edwards won in 2004 and his last chance to keep his 2008 candidacy alive. It is a snub by his running mate from four years ago.

Kerry vouched for Obama, 46, on what has been his chronic weakness — questions by voters about his experience. “My friends, when we choose a president, we are electing judgment and character, not years on this Earth.”

Kerry also helped drown out the Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) New Hampshire comeback story. Kerry can be used as a surrogate on the Obama fund-raising trail. He can be used to deflect “swift boat”-type fire expected against Obama from so-called independent groups backing Clinton. Kerry can also be useful in bringing commitments from Democratic “superdelegates” — 850 state, local and federal officials who are automatically delegates to the Democratic nominating convention.

The Obama campaign knew it had Kerry’s endorsement before the Iowa and New Hampshire votes but decided to save its ammunition for a later battle.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson dropped out Thursday. If Edwards, who has been competing with Obama using a similar anti-Washington change message, is finished off in South Carolina, the Obama campaign will get a one-on-one with Clinton.

Kerry plays an important role in the Obama political biography. The Kerry team tapped Obama, then a fairly unknown state senator who was running for a U.S. Senate seat, to keynote one night of his convention in Boston, skyrocketing Obama on a course toward the White House.

Kerry’s speech was crafted to include every significant Obama theme.

“Who better than Barack Obama to turn a new page in American politics so that, Democrat, Independent and Republican alike can look to leadership that unites to find the common ground?” Kerry said.

Without mentioning Clinton by name, Kerry called for a generational passing of the baton to Obama.

“Sometimes the hardest thing for the established political world to do is make a clean break with the past — to readily embrace new thinking and a new beginning,” Kerry said.

To read the Kerry speech, go to Sweet’s blog at http://blogs.sun times.com/sweet/

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