With Kerry’s Poll Numbers Rising, Will He Run in 2016?
Policy + Politics

With Kerry’s Poll Numbers Rising, Will He Run in 2016?

Reuters/Brian Snyder

This hasn’t been exactly a banner month for Hillary Clinton.

Recent publication  of voluminous journals and memos written by Clinton’s best friend, the late political scientist Diane Blair, dredged up the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinski affair and revealed the depth of Hillary’s contempt for the press.

Many Democratic lawmakers are grumbling that the organizing and fundraising on behalf of a possible Clinton campaign by the Ready for Hillary and Priorities USA independent super PACs is distracting from the their efforts to retain control of the Senate this fall.  

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And just this week at a private gathering in Long Beach, Calif., Clinton compared Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions in Crimea to those of Hitler in the 1930s – a line seemingly designed to demonstrate her toughness, but hardly the politic comment of a skillful former Secretary of State.

At the same time, Secretary of State John Kerry has been enjoying something of a resurgence in public popularity a little more than a year after he succeeded Clinton in the Obama administration.

As Kerry tries to broker a diplomatic solution to Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, a recent Gallup poll shows that a majority of Americans have a generally favorable view of the former Democratic Massachusetts senator. Fifty-five percent of Americans surveyed gave Kerry a favorable rating, up seven percentage points since last September.

Gallup noted that the survey preceded the current crisis in Ukraine but followed the deal the U.S. and other countries reached with Iran to temporarily freeze parts of its nuclear program in exchange for the relaxation of some Western sanctions.

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Gallup has tracked Kerry's favorability periodically since 1999, covering his time in the Senate and as the unsuccessful Democratic presidential nominee in 2004. His current 55 percent favorable rating ranks on the high end of those ratings, with his personal best of 61 percent coming after his victories in the 2004 Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. At the time of the general election that year, 52 percent viewed him favorably and 43 percent unfavorably.

The last time Gallup surveyed Americans’ attitudes about Kerry--September 2013--he was in the midst of the debate over whether the U.S. and its allies should mount military action against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. At that time, Kerry said that Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own people was "undeniable" and announced that the U.S. was pondering intervention in the conflict. The Obama administration settled for diplomatic efforts to force Syria to dispose of its vast stockpile of chemical weapons.

At that time, 48 percent of Americans viewed Kerry favorably, while 35 percent viewed him unfavorably. In April 2013, two months into his tenure as secretary of state, 44 percent of Americans regarded Kerry favorably. “So in less than a year, as more and more Americans have felt they knew enough about Kerry to rate him, his favorable ratings have risen 11 percentage points, while his unfavorable ratings have stayed essentially constant,” according to Gallup.

Kerry’s surge in popularity raises an interesting question: If for some reason Hillary Clinton decides not to seek the Democratic presidential nomination, would Kerry take another crack at the White House?

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The short answer is, probably not. His narrow loss to then President George W. Bush was a heartbreaker and an enormous embarrassment for Kerry and his supporters. He lost after being blasted by a conservative veterans group regarding his service during the Vietnam War (the Swift Boat affair), and he was derided as a flip-flopper after his memorable line that "I actually did vote for the $87 billion [of Iraq and Afghanistan war funding] before I voted against it.”

Speculation that he might change his mind was fueled late last year after the 70-year-old Kerry was the subject of flattering profiles in both The Atlantic and Politico Magazine. Following that fawning attention, presidential campaign chronicler Mark Halperin further fueled the speculation. "Let me just say quickly, if Hillary Clinton doesn't run for president I bet you John Kerry does," Halperin said during an appearance on MSNBC in December.

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) subsequently picked up on the drum beat. He said that people shouldn't rule out Kerry as a candidate in 2016, particularly after his successful first year as secretary of state.

"I think John Kerry is the big political surprise, and by that I mean, you know, maybe he makes another run," Richardson said on NBC's Meet the Press. "Well, this is just me, but I think he's got the credentials.  He's run before, he's been a superb secretary of state."

For now, at least, the polls and conventional wisdom say that the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination is Clinton’s for the asking. But in recent weeks there have been reported signs of frustration within the party over what some call the "inevitability" of her nomination. Vice President Joe Biden has said he is considering a run for the presidency, in a move to try to discourage the narrative of ‘inevitability.’ Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Brian Schweitzer, a former Montana governor, have indicated they would jump into the Democratic race if Clinton chooses not to run.

Kerry says he's happy to be out of politics and will never seek public office again. "One of the joys of this job is I'm out of politics," Kerry told CNN’s Jake Tapper recently.
"I have no plans whatsoever. This is my last stop."

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