U.S. Sen. John Kerry returned to the Lowcountry, where he launched his 2004 presidential bid, but he came Thursday to introduce and endorse the Democrat who he hopes will win this time: U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.
Kerry's appearance provided a surprise twist to Obama's packed rally at the College of Charleston's Cistern, which drew thousands of people - making it the largest political rally in Charleston in recent memory. Hundreds also stood outside along the iron fence.
It wasn't the first time Kerry has helped Obama. Kerry's decision to let the then-unknown Illinois state senator deliver the 2004 Democratic keynote address catapulted Obama onto the national scene.
"Charleston is a good place to remind people that since the birth of our nation, change has been won by young presidents and young leaders who have shown that experience is not defined by time in Washington or years in office. It's defined by wisdom and instinct and vision," Kerry said.
"It is the moral compass that I see and that I believe you see in Barack Obama that gives me confidence he will steer our country in the right direction. He was, after all, right about the war in Iraq from the beginning," Kerry said. "We are electing judgment and character, not years on this earth."
Kerry said Obama promises a new brand of bipartisan politics that would bring citizens together to do great things. "I see Americans by the millions turned off from our democracy itself," he said. "To them, politics has become a dirty word, and we've all seen too much of a politics that sells out the conscience of our country just to win an election."
Obama thanked Kerry, calling him "a man of courage, a man of conviction and a man whose life story gives him an understanding of the kind of change we need right now."
Obama talked about the need to look out for seniors who have lost their pensions while company presidents pocketed a bonus and for parents who are competing with their teen-agers for $7-an-hour jobs at Wal-Mart.
He said he would work to end the Iraq war responsibly, adding, "Our troops have done a magnificent job. They have been brilliant."
"We want everybody on the change bandwagon. ... To me, change isn't just the rhetoric of the campaign, it's been the cause of my life," he said. "We've been told by a chorus of cynics who will only grow more louder and more dissonant in the weeks to come. They say, 'Oh, Barack may get people excited but he's not been in Washington long enough. We need to season and stew him, boil all the hope out of him."
He said: "In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope. Generations of Americans have responded by a simple creed that sums up the spirit of people: Yes we can. ... It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail toward freedom through the darkest of nights. Yes we can."
While Obama's appearance was ostensibly part of the College of Charleston's Bully Pulpit series, Obama's celebrity status changed the format. Instead of taking questions for an hour, he spoke for only about 20 minutes - about the same length of time as Kerry -then lingered for about an hour greeting supporters and meeting privately with reporters and others.
Kerry's endorsement overshadows Obama's rival, former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, who was scheduled to stump in Charleston just a few hours later. Edwards was Kerry's running mate four years ago.
The Republican National Committee put out a statement noting the similarities in the voting records of Kerry and Obama and called them "liberal soul mates."
The Obama campaign estimated the crowd at 4,500, and Charleston County Democratic Party Chair Waring Howe said, "I've never seen this many people turn out for a rally, Democrat or Republican. This is like a political Woodstock."
Many who attended walked away with smiles. Felisa Geddis of Summerville said she has voted for Republicans for years but will vote for Obama this time. "I think just looking at the crowd is inspiring," she said. "It showed the true face of America, and that's what we need."
Paul Tetreault made the trip up to Charleston from St. Augustine, Fla. "The last time I was this fired up, I was helping Bobby Kennedy" in 1968, Tetreault said.
Crystal Matthews of Goose Creek said she has been on board with Obama since the first debate in Orangeburg in April. "It's not about his skin," she said. "It's all about his character."
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