DES MOINES, Iowa — Former Secretary of State John Kerry — one of Joe Biden’s highest-profile endorsers — was overheard Sunday on the phone at a Des Moines hotel explaining what he would have to do to enter the presidential race amid “the possibility of Bernie Sanders taking down the Democratic Party — down whole.”
Sitting in the lobby restaurant of the Renaissance Savery hotel, Kerry was overheard by an NBC News analyst saying “maybe I’m f—ing deluding myself here” and explaining that in order to run, he’d have to step down from the board of Bank of America and give up his ability to make paid speeches. Kerry said donors like venture capitalist Doug Hickey would have to “raise a couple of million,” adding that such donors “now have the reality of Bernie.”
Asked about the call later on Sunday, Kerry said that he was “absolutely not” contemplating joining the Democratic primary race. He reiterated this sentiment in a tweet later, saying that “any report otherwise is f—ing (or categorically) false.” Minutes later, he deleted the tweet and reposted it without the expletive.
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He told NBC News later on Sunday that, “This is a complete and total misinterpretation based on overhearing only one side of a phone conversation. A friend who watches too much cable called me wondering whether I’d ever jump into the race late in the game if Democrats were choosing an unelectable nominee. I listed all the reasons I could not possibly do that and would not — and will not under any circumstances — do that.”
It’s not clear how serious Kerry was on the call about jumping into the race. But that he would even discuss the possibility suggests that prominent members of the Democratic Party remain deeply unsettled by the current field, Sanders’ strength in the polls, and the ability of any candidate to defeat President Donald Trump.
It also suggests that Kerry, who has campaigned with Biden in Iowa and New Hampshire, may be nervous about the former vice president’s chances ahead of Monday’s first-in-the-nation primary caucuses. At a North Liberty, Iowa, campaign event on Saturday, Kerry spoke both after and for longer than Biden did.
The Biden team denied concerns about Kerry’s support. “Everyone knows that John Kerry is all in for us,” Symone Sanders, a senior adviser to the Biden campaign, told NBC News.
Kerry was the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, losing to President George W. Bush. He got 251 electoral votes, compared to Bush’s 286.
Kerry has served as one of the former vice president’s top surrogates in the 2020 race. Biden holds a less than 4-point lead over Sanders in the RealClearPolitics average of national Democratic primary polls but trails the Vermont senator in the Iowa and New Hampshire polling averages.
NBC News asked Kerry last month whether he regretted not entering the 2020 race.
“I’d be a liar if I didn’t say I don’t come out here and have fun and your juices don’t get going,” he said. “But right now, they’re entirely focused on helping Joe Biden become president, and I’m very happy doing what I’m doing.”
Jonathan Allen reported from Des Moines, Iowa and Allan Smith reported from New York.
Mike Memoli and Adam Edelman contributed.