TAMPA - In a move that is sure to ignite a firestorm of speculation about who would be Secretary of State in a second Obama administration, President Barack Obama has chosen Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) to deliver a key national security themed speech on the final night of the Democratic National Convention.
An Obama campaign official told The Cable Tuesday that Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a highly rumored candidate to replace Hillary Clinton in Foggy Bottom when she steps down next year, will headline a special segment of the program on Thursday, Sept. 6, focusing on national security. The Sept. 6 program will take place at Bank of America stadium and will conclude with Obama's speech accepting his party's nomination for a second term.
The move is a reflection of the Obama campaign's growing confidence in the area of national security versus a candidate in Mitt Romney who is seen as being light on national security and foreign policy experience and whose campaign has deprioritized discussing national security in an effort to keep the focus on Obama's economic record.
"President Obama's strong record on national security and veterans issues is clear - from ending the war in Iraq responsibly, to refocusing on al-Qaeda and decimating its leadership, to taking care of our men and women in uniform when they return home. These issues will play a significant role throughout the week of the Democratic Convention," the Obama campaign official said.
Kerry has always denied he is lobbying for Clinton's job, but insiders say he is on a short list along with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon. Rice is rumored to be the front runner, due in part to her longtime personal relationship with Obama, which dates back to his time as a senator.
Donilon's chances are said to have diminished since he became the focus of accusations that the Obama White House has been leaking classified national security information for political purposes. Those accusations could make Donilon's Senate confirmation difficult.
Rice and Donilon are not speaking at the convention, but that's not an indication of their stature or chances for promotion. Sitting national security officials aren't permitted to engage directly in election-related political activities.
The Kerry speech in Charlotte is also a chance for the Obama campaign to push back against the groups of special operations veterans that are mobilizing a campaign to attack Obama's national security record by pointing to the leaks and accusing Obama of spiking the football after the killing of Osama bin Laden.
When Kerry ran for president unsuccessfully in 2004, his service in Vietnam, during which he was awarded three purple hearts, was attacked by a series of well-funded groups such as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Some of those same veterans are the ones organizing the anti-Obama veterans groups this year.
The Obama campaign official described Kerry as "a decorated combat veteran, and a tribute to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces."
Overall, the message Kerry will deliver will be that Obama has made progress in correcting what Democrats see as the foreign policy failures of the George W. Bush administration and that Romney would return America to those policies.
"The American people understand that President Obama has been a strong commander-in-chief, and we're looking forward to highlighting these important issues at the convention," the Obama campaign official said. "Senator Kerry will speak to how the President has restored America's leadership in the world, has taken the fight to our enemies, and has a plan to bring our troops home from Afghanistan just like he did from Iraq. He will contrast the President's strong leadership in this area with Mitt Romney, who has embraced the go-it-alone, reckless policies of the past that weakened America's place in the world and made us less secure here at home."
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John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.