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John Kerry does some stand-up in Las Vegas

January 17, 2008 | 11:48 pm

Audiences take them for granted. But jokes told to crowds can be powerful political tools, especially self-deprecating ones.

For instance, it's charming when someone who loses the race for president can make a joke about it, even if he might be still bruised inside. After the sting of his 2000 loss, Al Gore often told audiences, “I used to be the next president of the United States.”

And after Bob Dole lost to President Bill Clinton in 1996, the former Kansas senator would say: “I slept like a baby. Woke up crying every two hours.”

In that fine tradition now comes John Kerry, who campaigned this afternoon with Michelle Obama in the common room of a modest Las Vegas condominium complex. Along listening closely and taking notes was The Times' Robin Abcarian.

“When I was here in 2004,” said Kerry, “I vowed that I would come back in 2008 in the presidential race … and here I am. Thanks to you, I won -- we won -- 59 million votes, more than any other Democrat who has ever run for president of the United States.

"I felt super good about that," Kerry added, "until I learned that Sanjaya on 'American Idol' got more votes than me." Pretty good.

But then Kerry dipped a little too deep into the treasure chest of political yuks for a joke that virtually every politician has told for at least the past 15 years.

“In an airport," Kerry said (but the setting could be a convenience store or a McDonald's), "some guy pointed at me and said, ‘Anybody ever tell you you look like that Kerry guy?’ I said, ‘Yeah, they tell me that all the time.’ And he said, ‘Kinda makes you mad, don’t it?’ ”

-- Andrew Malcolm