By Alec MacGillis and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 11, 2008
CHARLESTON, S.C., Jan. 10 -- Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the Democratic Party's 2004 presidential nominee, endorsed Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) for the presidency here Thursday, calling him the party's best choice to unite the country. Meanwhile, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson ended his candidacy after disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.
"Martin Luther King said the time is always right to do what is right," Kerry said at a morning rally attended by several thousand people, "and I am here in South Carolina because this is the right time to share with you, to make sure that we know, that I have the confidence that Barack Obama can be, will be and should be the next president."
Kerry's endorsement is a symbolic boost for Obama after his loss in New Hampshire, and a rebuke to the candidacy of the man Kerry chose as his 2004 running mate, former senator John Edwards (N.C.). Kerry's support for Obama also was a rebuff to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), whose campaign sprang back to life Tuesday with a come-from-behind win in New Hampshire.
Clinton returned to the campaign trail yesterday for the first time since that victory. She spent time canvassing voters in Las Vegas and held an event focusing attention on the subprime mortgage crisis.
The Jan. 19 Nevada caucuses are the next contest on the Democratic calendar, but Clinton's campaign advisers said her principal focus in the coming weeks will be on the accumulation of convention delegates, with the goal of emerging as the clear leader in delegates after Feb. 5, when 22 states hold primaries or caucuses.
"We're going to do everything we can between now and the 19th," Clinton said while canvassing in Las Vegas, signaling that she had no intention of abandoning the contest despite seeing the state's powerful culinary union back Obama. She also offered some concerns that the state is holding caucuses rather than primaries, noting that they do not provide for absentee balloting and require participants to set aside a large block of time. "There will be a lot of people who, even if they want to, can't [caucus], and that is troubling. Elections are challenging, caucuses are doubly challenging."
Clinton's campaign also sought to counter Kerry's endorsement of Obama by announcing endorsements from two prominent Hispanics who had supported Richardson -- former housing secretary Henry Cisneros and former ambassador Edward Romero.
Richardson ran on his foreign policy credentials and his record as the only governor in the Democratic field. His witty television ads and good-humored approach to the race won him admirers, but he found only minimal support at the polls.
"Despite overwhelming financial and political odds, I am proud of the campaign we waged and . . . most importantly the influence we had on the issues that matter the most to the future of this country," he told supporters in Santa Fe.
Obama's rally with Kerry in South Carolina highlighted the significance of that state's Jan. 26 Democratic primary, where black voters will play a potentially decisive role for the first time in this nomination battle.
There was a certain historical irony to the moment. In 2004, Obama had burst onto the national scene with his speech at the Democratic convention in Boston, a speech that, among other things, praised Kerry, the party's nominee, for his long service to the country in Vietnam and in the Senate.
On Thursday, Kerry made the mirror-image case: that Democrats should rally around Obama because he possesses judgment and idealism that have not been tarnished by an overlong tenure in Washington. He cited Thomas Jefferson's writing of the Declaration of Independence at 33 and King's delivery of his "I Have a Dream" speech at 34 as proof that age is immaterial.
"Mile by mile on the long march of this campaign, the cynics have questioned whether this young leader from Illinois is ready. But you know what, the cynics may have spoken, but it is the people that will decide," he said. Kerry added: "When we choose a president we are electing judgment and character, not years on this Earth."
Kerry did not refer by name to Clinton or Edwards, saying only that the other candidates in the race were "terrific public servants." But he disputed Clinton's warning against Obama's "false hopes." "The only charge that rings false is the one that tells you not to hope for a better America," he said. "Don't let anyone tell you to accept the downsizing of the American dream."
Kerry's endorsement carried practical help for Obama in the form of the 2004 nominee's e-mail list of supporters who can be tapped for financial assistance.
Supporters gathered in the courtyard said Obama is also now on more hospitable ground, politically, than he had been in New Hampshire. While they had seen the signs of a growing Obama organization in South Carolina for months -- he has 11 offices in the state -- they said his victory in Iowa showed many in the state, particularly doubtful African Americans, that his candidacy is legitimate.
The defeat in New Hampshire had not appeared to cancel out the subsequent movement toward him in the state, they said, perhaps because Clinton's margin of victory was relatively narrow. If anything, supporters said, the New Hampshire result had energized some in South Carolina more, because it reminded them that he would not be able to coast to the nomination and would need their help.
Obama himself has fully incorporated the New Hampshire setback, and the criticisms from Clinton and her husband that preceded it, into his stump speech, casting it as the unavoidable resistance to a burgeoning movement and seeking to draw energy from it. He led the huge crowd in chants of "Yes, we can" and declared that even though "we've been told we can't do this . . . that we have to pause for a reality check," there is indisputably a movement afoot. "There is something happening in America," he said.
Kane, with the Clinton campaign, reported from Las Vegas. Staff writer Dan Balz in Washington contributed to this report.