Embracing Barack Obama as his choice for president at a college rally in Charleston, S.C. , Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry said the freshman senator from Illinois offered America a unique opportunity to move beyond racial and political divisions and to unite behind common goals.
“Barack Obama can be, will be and should be the next president,” Kerry told the crowd of about 4,000 people, who listened from an outdoor courtyard shaded by live oak and Spanish moss at the College of Charleston.
“Who better than Barack Obama to turn a new page in American politics, so that Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike can look to the leadership that unites to find common ground?”
The endorsement, which had been agreed upon weeks ago but leaked from Kerry’s inner circle only hours before the rally, is expected to help Obama with fundraising. It is also likely to draw the support of elected official “superdelegates,” who will have an automatic vote at the Democratic National Convention this summer.
The endorsement is widely viewed as a slap at former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who was Kerry’s 2004 running mate. The pair were considered a bad match by many observers, including some who felt Edwards never subordinated his own political ambitions to the Kerry campaign.
Following Kerry’s 18-minute introduction, Obama bounded onto the stage and, under the canopy of trees, hugged his endorser warmly, then thanked him for his service in Vietnam and his support of his campaign.
The appearance marks the first time since the party selection process began Jan. 3 that Obama has campaigned in a state with a significant black population.
That made particularly significant the appearance of Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, a white politician who has won re-election in this largely black city since 1975. Riley said Obama’s election “will remind the world that this is someone who was elected not because of the color of his skin, but because of the content of his character.”
Obama spoke for about 20 minutes, then met privately with about 30 local religious leaders.
Pastor Kay Colleton, of Manna Life Center in Charleston, said enthusiasm for Obama’s campaign is building among South Carolina’s black residents, who made up 49 percent of the voter turnout in the state’s 2004 Democratic primary.
“I believe the pastors who were there left feeling empowered,” Colleton said. “We felt part of a divine movement.”
Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president on Friday, citing his message of hope in supporting his candidacy over rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards.
Napolitano visited the Obama campaign office in Phoenix and joined him in a conference call with reporters.
“This endorsement is based on my belief in your leadership and vision and the fact that we need a new message of hope and solidarity of coming together in Washington, D.C.,” Napolitano said.
The endorsement is a major gain for Obama in his race against chief foe Clinton. Napolitano, one of several female governors, is the most prominent Democrat in Arizona. Her endorsement could be significant in a state now regarded as winnable by a Democrat after decades as a near-lock for Republicans; the state holds its primary Feb. 5.
Questions from reporters focused on what role Napolitano could conceivably play in an Obama administration.
“I don’t want to prejudge or put her on the spot. Let me just say this – I think she is enormously talented …” Obama said.
Napolitano was elected governor in 2002 and re-elected in 2006. She previously was U.S. attorney for Arizona during most of the Clinton administration and then served a four-year term as the elected state attorney general.
She is regarded as a possible candidate in 2010 for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican John McCain, though she has been mentioned as a possible candidate for vice president or for a Cabinet post in a Democratic administration.
She was mentioned in early speculation as a possible running mate for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004 and made a prime-time speech at the Democratic National Convention. She is a past chair of the National Governors Association.
Obama also picked up the endorsement of former Sen. Gary Hart, a Colorado Democrat and two-time presidential candidate.
Hart called the Illinois senator “the embodiment of what is best about our nation” and disputed criticism that Obama is inexperienced or lacks national security credentials.
“Senator Obama’s personal history uniquely qualifies him to restore America’s standing in the world,” Hart said in a written release.
Hart lost the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination to former Vice President Walter Mondale. He sought the 1988 nomination before his candidacy was derailed by allegations of an extramarital affair.