Obama burst onto the national stage in 2004 when he ran for the U.S. Senate in Illinois. At the time, Kerry was battling George W. Bush in the presidential election. After clinching his party’s nomination for the Senate seat in March, Obama was the star of the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, where he offered the keynote address -- in many ways overshadowing Kerry.
While Kerry lost out to Bush in November, the Massachusetts senator remained active in national politics. Despite some early speculation that he wanted another shot at the White House, Kerry stayed on the sidelines while Democratic heavyweights -- Obama, Clinton, John Edwards, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden -- entered the race.
Early on in the contest, Kerry threw his political muscle behind Obama over Clinton. Massachusetts Democrats, veterans of Ted Kennedy’s, Mike Dukakis’, Paul Tsongas’ and Kerry’s presidential campaign, quickly got in line behind Obama. Ted Kennedy would not endorse Obama until almost three weeks after Kerry did.
Despite Edwards remaining in the race -- Edwards had been Kerry's running mate on the Democratic ticket in 2004 -- Kerry did not formally endorse Obama until January 2008 after the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. Significantly, Kerry endorsed Obama in South Carolina, a primary state that Edwards desperately needed to remain a viable candidate.
While he did not take shots at any of the other Democrats in the race when he endorsed Obama, Kerry insisted that Obama had the “potential to lead a transformation, not just a transition.”
"Barack Obama can help our country turn the page and get America moving by uniting and ending the division that America faces,” Kerry said in his endorsement. “He has a superb talent, as all of you know, to communicate the best of our hopes and aspirations for America and the world.”
Remembering his often inept campaign in 2004, conservatives, including those at National Review, mocked Kerry’s endorsement.
But Kerry had a major weapon in his arsenal -- the largest Democratic contact list ever assembled.
That included an unprecedented list of email addresses for likely Democratic primary and general election voters, providing Obama a head-start over Clinton and Edwards (and later John McCain) in using technology and new media to reach out to voters.
Building on Kerry’s efforts, Obama used this technology to reach out to young voters. Whatever his faults as a candidate, Kerry did well with young voters who were discontented with Bush’s presidency. While Bush took 47 percent of voters between 18-24 in 2000 (the same percentage as Democrat nominee Al Gore), Kerry ran off with 56 percent of voters in that age range in 2004. Obama did even better, taking 66 percent of those voters in 2008 and 60 percent in 2012. In both of his successful presidential campaigns, Obama amplified Kerry’s successes with young voters and technology.
During Obama’s presidency, Kerry has been a loyal trooper in the Senate. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Kerry has made several international trips on Obama’s behalf. Even while U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who was also in the running to be secretary of state, was drawing heavy fire from Republicans in recent weeks, Kerry remained quiet on his own chances and tried his best to defend the administration.
While it remains unlikely that he will ever be president, Kerry’s new position will help him remain at the political table -- something that many defeated presidential nominees can’t say. Despite their very different political styles (Obama stole the show in 2004 for a reason), Kerry has been a stalwart ally for Obama -- and it’s paid off for him.
Freelance political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this piece specially for Sunshine State News.