Obama gains access to big dollars through Kerry’s endorsement

Presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is taking advantage of Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) coveted e-mail list as he continues to campaign throughout the vital primary states.

By receiving access, Obama has a direct link to core Democratic supporters who could help the candidate make stronger inroads with the party’s base. Kerry’s e-mail list is considered to be the one of the more accurate sets of data on strong party supporters.

The campaign has wasted little time using it, firing off two e-mail messages in the past week to the roughly 3 million members on it  — one from the candidate and the other from Kerry.

Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, gave the first-term senator the imprimatur of the party’s establishment with his endorsement. More importantly, Kerry lent a valuable fundraising resource to Obama as the Illinois Democrat prepares for January contests in Nevada and South Carolina, and then in 22 states on Feb. 5. E-mail blasts calling for contributions can produce quick fundraising results for campaigns as well, potentially in the millions of dollars.

The Massachusetts senator has been a record-breaking fundraiser for his party, raising about $33 million for candidates in the 2006 midterm elections. A third of that money came through the e-mail list, according to a former Kerry fundraiser.

Kerry is also going beyond fundraising to boost Obama’s campaign. He’s hitting the road to stump for Obama and talking his Senate colleague up with reporters.

“I think the worst endorsements are when someone supports you on paper alone,” Kerry said through a spokesman. “So I want to bring to bear every resource I’ve got and ask my friends to do the same, whether it’s our 3 million-person e-mail community that’s fought so hard to elect Democrats, or whatever I can do to spread the message by traveling for Barack, and just plain old-fashioned organizing.”

Kerry has not physically turned the e-mail list over to the Obama campaign. Legal reasons and the privacy policy established by the Massachusetts senator allow the list to be used by other campaigns, but not transferred into their possession, according to a Kerry aide.

But access is just as important as possession. And having Kerry’s stature could build Obama’s creditability as he makes his case to lead the nation.

“In the case of former presidential nominees, it allows the candidate to connect to the party’s history,” said Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University. “It is a morale-builder.”

But Baker warned not to give too much weight to the 2004 nominee’s e-mail list. “These political Rosetta Stones come up every now and then. E-mail lists are highly perishable,” said the professor.

Beyond giving Obama’s campaign access to his e-mail list, Kerry traveled to Nevada on Thursday and Friday to campaign for Obama; the state’s caucuses are on Saturday. The 2004 presidential nominee also recorded telephone endorsement messages, known as “robocalls,” that will go out before the caucus.

Kerry also plans to help Obama reach military veterans, sending e-mails to those in Nevada and South Carolina who supported his 2004 campaign.

In addition, Kerry has become a public advocate for Obama as his campaign progresses by speaking out against a lawsuit that could have hampered turnout for the candidate in Nevada.

Various lawyers and the Nevada State Teachers Union had sued the state Democratic Party over allowing caucus sites at casinos, alleging they would give a disproportionate amount of delegates to the casino workers. The suit was dismissed Thursday.

Before the suit was filed, Obama received the endorsement of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, a vital constituency of casino workers. Some say they were expected to take advantage of the sites because casino workers typically work weekends. But if the workers had been forced to go elsewhere to caucus, he could have lost many potential supporters who would have been working that day.

“All this time, Democrats have stood up for the rights of all people to cast their votes. We need to remain that kind of Party — voter suppression is wrong, all the time, anywhere,” wrote Kerry in a post on the liberal blog TPMCafe. “Open the caucus sites, and let people vote.”  

Kerry has also taken on the role of media surrogate for Obama’s campaign, appearing on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” this past Sunday to talk about his decision to endorse the Illinois Democrat.

Even with Obama having accessed Kerry’s e-mail list, much of the former nominee’s fundraising apparatus is still up for grabs. The vast majority of fundraisers who bundled checks for Kerry in 2004 are uncommitted so far this election cycle.

Close to 450 fundraisers are still on the sidelines for this primary season, according to an analysis done by Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group.

Of those Kerry bundlers committed to a candidate, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) leads with 68. Obama then follows in second with 48, while former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) trails with 20.

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