Why John Kerry’s Presidential Primary Endorsement Matters

Posted February 12, 2007 at 6:13pm

We all know that Democrats have a tendency to turn out our defeated presidential nominees to pasture. It’s a miracle that any former candidates, let alone the nominee, are willing to stay in the game and fight the good fight. Former Vice President Al Gore waited almost two years before making a comeback. And what a terrific comeback— challenging all of us to take seriously the threat of global warming to our planet. But hold on … [IMGCAP(1)]

As Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) indicated Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” he finally is “liberated” and anticipates endorsing one of the candidates at some point. But for now, Kerry said he would “try and push my definition of what I think the priorities are, look to those candidates who embrace that. And at some point in time, I would hope to get involved.”

Kerry’s endorsement, while still a long way off, could make a huge difference by helping that person fight for votes he or she otherwise might not have been able to get.

And who could benefit the most? All of them.

Kerry’s endorsement could make a difference in a crowded field by helping someone set up a political machine in some of the early states, including Iowa and New Hampshire, while the ground is still fertile.

With so many states seeking their moment in the sunlight of the presidential season, Kerry’s e-mail list is still the envy of the party — 3 million-plus battle-tested citizens who are prepared to stand and fight on his behalf. Kerry’s support could help the frontrunners — or help jump-start one of the second-tier candidates still trying to raise his or her name identification among voters.

And then there is money.

Kerry, who raised well more than $230 million in 2004, also could help someone bring in the cash by turning over his finance titans and urging them to help his candidate. At a time when many of the top -tier candidates are trying to raise more than $100 million before the first voter attends their caucus meeting in Iowa, Kerry knows where most of the Democratic money is buried and could help dial for dollars.

And then there is talent.

Speaking of knowing where the bucks are, how about knowing where the voters live, work, play and pray? Kerry had some of the most seasoned (and best) grass-roots organizers and political strategists in the Democratic Party at his command in 2004. Just think who could be made available — Michael Whouley, Charlie Baker, Jack Corrigan, John Sasso, Tad Devine, Jill Alper and others who understand not only how to count votes, but also how to build organizations that last through the tough political terrains in the primary and general elections. And they could help identify where the potholes are down the road.

Some of these candidates, while running at a hectic pace, also could learn a thing or two from Kerry about becoming a hot commodity only to burn out and come back from the political graveyard. As a Vietnam War veteran, and as someone who says he made a huge mistake voting “yes” on the 2002 Iraq War resolution, Kerry’s contribution to this growing debate will be followed, and some of the candidates now trying on their warrior belts could use a pointer in figuring out just how to stake out a position and hold their ground.

Kerry’s tough and gritty. He certainly is a lot more humble after being forced to confront his shortcomings, figure out what he did wrong, listen to others and commit himself to change. Here again, Kerry could help mentor some of the current crop of candidates — some are so hot, they could melt butter.

Finally, there’s the party to think about. Kerry has paid his dues and then some. People know him, and while some may dislike his “stupid jokes” about this or that or his inability to stay on message, Kerry continues to fight for other Democrats. Instead of licking his wounds, Kerry made the decision in 2006 to fight back by traveling to 35 states to help elect Democrats to Congress, and he also helped to recruit veterans for the races. Kerry also spent some of the leftover presidential largess to support other Democrats. He has stature in a party still trying to define itself.

Oh, one more thing about why Kerry’s support could help one of the current presidential contenders: Since leaving the presidential race, Kerry also has made it clear again and again he will not allow the “swiftboating” of patriotic Americans. Both Democratic frontrunners, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), could use some help starting now because they are taking much of the wrath of the right-wing smear machines and the campaign has not yet made it to the halfway point.

No matter what you think about John Kerry or his 2004 campaign, the man has something to offer his party and is still willing to serve his country.

Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.