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Southern Dem says Kerry the wrong choice to speak on national security

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) isn't the best choice to help President Obama press home his advantage on national security, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) told The Hill on Tuesday.

Cooper, a high-ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee who's in Charlotte, N.C., pumping up Obama's record on national security, said the Massachusetts liberal will have a hard time persuading Southerners that Democrats are the best equipped to keep them safe when he touts Obama's record on Thursday. Kerry lost North Carolina by a 12.4-point landslide in 2004 despite choosing then home-state Sen. John Edwards as his running mate.

“Just speaking from a Southern perspective, he is not the most effective advocate,” Cooper said. “Massachusetts is great and wonderful, but if you want to do the South, you've got to have somebody who speaks with a Southern accent.”

Cooper made the remarks following a foreign-policy breakfast hosted by The Hill. Panelists included Obama campaign surrogates Colin Kahl and Bruce Jentleson, who said Obama gets high marks for overseeing the death of Osama bin Laden and other wanted terrorists and dealing forcefully with emerging threats like Iran.

“This is the first time in decades that the Democratic candidate for president has had an advantage on national security/foreign-policy issues as the public perceives it, not just as the ... wonks perceive it,” said Jentleson, a professor of public policy and political science at Duke University. “And there's a reason for that. I think the American public has seen that President Obama combines when and how to use force, and when and how to use the alternative tool diplomacy. Americans don't want a president who is too gun-shy ... but they also don't want a president who is too trigger-happy.”

But Cooper warned that Obama still has “a lot more work to do” to help the highly patriotic and pro-military voters in the South “understand his role as commander in chief” and win reelection. Virginia, North Carolina and Florida were still toss-ups as of last month, according to polling aggregation by RealClearPolitics, with Georgia and South Carolina leaning toward Romney.

“It's really an amazing advantage Democrats have,” Cooper said. “I hope we're intelligent to seize on it and help people understand."

He said former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), who was rumored to be in the running as Obama's running mate in 2008, would have been a better choice.

“He speaks with our accent,” Cooper said. “Part of that is a cultural communications issue. And most of politics is cultural, it's not issues.”