As befits the intense presidential fight in Rhode Island -- which gets front-page attention in today's New York Times -- last night's Providence Newspaper Guild Follies had some high-profile guests from the world of national politics. The event, held at the Venus de Milo in Swansea, Massachusetts, ritualistically takes place on the last Friday in February.
Chelsea Clinton, in town to campaign for her mother, was squired around by US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. And US Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic nominee in 2004, turned up as a surprise guest about a third of the way into the program, upstaging the eventual Mystery Guests, Attorney General Patrick "Superdelegateman" Lynch, his Clinton-supporting brother Bill, chief of the RI Democratic Party, and their mother, who mediated their clashing presidential choices. Vote your conscience, she said.
Kerry, seeming more loose than he appeared from afar in 2004, offered a deft comedic touch, yet he also upset some of the Clinton supporters in the audience of more than 1200 by closing with an impassioned endorsement of Obama.
After Kerry was introduced, the audience seemed to anticipate something other than the actual senator. As he bounded on stage and was recognized, Kerry called himself the best you can get on a Friday night in Massachusetts when Ted Kennedy isn't available. Surveying the packed crowd of Rhode Islanders, he said, "[So] this is what four electoral votes looks like."
Kerry went on to call the gathering the biggest collection of Ocean State pols since a 2005 get-together at the Allenwood Federal Pen. Having paid so much for so little "makes us like Mitt Romney's supporters right now," he said. Kerry explained how some of the past and present presidential contenders couldn't make the event, Fred Thompson since his wife has "a lot of homework this weekend," and John McCain because "he used to date Venus de Milo."
The junior Bay State senator spoke of his recent trip to Pakistan, a place "where the candidates are Swift-goated," and where some hot air vented by Joe Biden, one of his traveling companions, helped to right their listing aircraft.
In contrast to memorable remarks associated with FDR and JFK, Kerry lamented he will be remembered for the phrase, "Don't Tase me, bro." He brightened, though, in outlining hopes for environmental Dems and death-penalty Republicans to come together -- thanks to a solar-powered electric chair.
Turning more serious, Kerry recalled talking with President Bush after the 2004 election and telling him of the need to bring the country together. The senator called Obama the best person to immediately begin that process. The Illinois senator, Kerry said, has the potential "to turn the page of history," and to be "a transformational, not a transitional" leader. Responding to critiques that Obama lacks experience, Kerry pointed to the scant previous national time in office of Abraham Lincoln, the man who observered that a house divided against itself cannot stand.
The forceful partisan endorsement led to cries of "Hillary!" from some of the Clinton supporters in the audience. The Obama supporters loved it.