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Obama to spar with John Kerry before he debates Mitt Romney

June 18, 2012|By Michael A. Memoli
  • Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) holds up a newspaper advertisement during a hearing on Capitol Hill May 23, 2012.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) holds up a newspaper advertisement during a hearing… (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images )

President Obama is turning to one Massachusetts pol to help him prepare for a pivotal showdown with another.

Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, will serve as a stand-in for 2012 Republican standard bearer Mitt Romney in Obama's preparations for nationally-televised debates, aides to the Massachusetts senator and Obama campaign confirm.

With Kerry, Obama has a skilled sparring partner for the key fall face-offs -- and one who is arguably as familiar as any elected Democrat with Romney's political resume, having viewed his governorship and his 1994 campaign for U.S. Senate from the front lines.

Dissecting Romney's tenure has become a major focus of the Obama campaign team. One of its most-aired television ads accuses Romney of having one of the worst economic records in the country during his single term leading the Bay State.

It also brings to mind how the last incumbent president seeking another term, George W. Bush, attempted to use the notion of Kerry as a "flip-flopper" to his political advantage. The Obama team has delighted in another metaphor for political expediency, "Etch A Sketch," to highlight any perceived Romney effort to recalibrate positions for the general election after largely toeing a conservative line in the primaries.

David Axelrod, Obama's senior campaign strategist, called Kerry the "obvious choice" in a statement to the Washington Post, which first reported the news.

"There is no one that has more experience or understanding of the presidential debate process than John Kerry," Axelrod said. "He's an expert debater who has a fundamental mastery of a wide range of issues, including Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts."

Kerry has yet to start in his role in "debate prep." The first of three debates is not scheduled until Oct. 3.

In 2004, Bush tapped then-Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire to play Kerry in practice sessions. In 2008, GOP nominee John McCain turned to Rob Portman, now an Ohio senator and potential Romney running mate selection, to play Obama.

michael.memoli@latimes.com

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