Today, John Kerry did a brave and rare thing for a politician. He made an endorsement at a time when it actually matters.
Generally, politicians like to make endorsements when they already know who is going to win. That way, they get to look like they're making a difference without isolating a potential winner. But if the race is up in the air, they usually stay on the sidelines. The truth is, most politicians view endorsements in terms of how much they can help themselves, not how much they can help the person they are endorsing.
So Kerry deserves praise for making an endorsement at a point when no one knows what is going to happen.
Unfortunately for Obama, Kerry's endorsement won't make much of a difference in this race (do you know anyone who was waiting to hear what Kerry had to say?) For that matter, do you know anyone who is waiting to hear what their local senator, member of congress or assembly member thinks?
There are only a few people who have the potential to sway a large number of voters merely on the basis of their recommendation. Bill Clinton and Oprah have already spoken, but it is a pretty perfect time for rest of the big shots let us know what they think.
There are at least three people whose endorsements could change this Democratic primary. If they're going to do it, they should do it now, while it still matters.
Gore has convinced a huge number of Americans that the environmental crisis is the greatest threat we face, and many of these people would love to hear what he has to say about the presidential race.
Clearly burned by politics, Gore has tried to stay above the fray recently. But he knows both Clinton and Obama, and surely has thoughts about which one is better suited to address the environmental crisis. I honestly don't know which one of them is, and I don't think most Americans do either.
The environment has fallen off the table in this primary, and none of the candidates have spent much time telling us how they would address it, even though most Democrats believe it is one of the single biggest problems we face. A Gore endorsement would put his issue back front and center. So let us know, Al, what do you think?
Personally, I've found John Edwards hard to believe in this race, because his stances are so different from where they were four years ago. The moderate, electable "new Bill Clinton" of 2004 is now the populist, firebrand, anti-Hillary Clinton candidate. While his new rhetoric has attracted a loyal liberal following, it seems obvious to me that it has always been about how John Edwards can win, not about a real desire to change the country.
But maybe I'm wrong. If Edwards is in fact running on what he truly believes, and honestly thinks Clintonian triangulation needs to be stopped, then he should drop out now and endorse Obama, the only candidate who has a shot to beat Clinton. (Or he should endorse Clinton, if he thinks she's the better candidate, although that appears unlikely). The point is, John Edwards is not going to win, but he could make a huge difference, instead of playing the spoiler.
If it really is just about John Edwards, he'll stay in and rack up increasingly distant third place finishes. When he finally does drop out, it will be too late for his endorsement to make a difference.
He usually scoffs at attempts to draw him into the political process, pointing out that he is just a comedian. But Jon Stewart is one of the few celebrities who has a similar draw to Oprah, in that he has an audience of millions who all look up to him and want to be friends with him. He can scoff all he wants, but a simple pre-February 5th message of "get off your butts and go vote for XX" would have the potential to change the race.
Brendan Spiegel is the co-editor of Endless Simmer.