He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Purple Hearts and the Navy Commendation Medal.
Mr. Kernan was employed by Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, then returned to Indiana where he worked for the South Bend Community Schools and several area corporations. In 1980, he was appointed city comptroller.
In 1987, Mr. Kernan, a Democrat, was elected mayor of South Bend, with economic development near the top of his agenda. When he was elected to his third four-year term, he won a record 82 percent of the vote and became the city’s longest-serving mayor at the time.
The following year, with Gov. Evan Bayh, a Democrat, ineligible to seek re-election because of term limits, Frank O’Bannon named Mr. Kernan as his running mate for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket. Both were elected. (Mr. O’Bannon had been lieutenant governor under Governor Bayh.)
As lieutenant governor, Mr. Kernan focused on tax reform, job creation and issues of special concern to veterans and farmers.
Re-elected in 2000, he assumed the governor’s job in September 2003 when Mr. O’Bannon died at 73 after having a stroke. Mr. Kernan then named Kathy Davis, a state and Indianapolis official, as lieutenant governor, making her the first woman to hold that job. He made strides in improving kindergarten and community college education.
He sought a full term in 2004 but lost to the Republican, Mitch Daniels, and returned to private life. He taught political science at Notre Dame and was president and managing investor of the South Bend Silver Hawks, then a farm club of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was instrumental in keeping the club, now known as the South Bend Cubs, in town.
In the 2011 South Bend mayoral election, Mr. Kernan endorsed Pete Buttigieg, who went on to serve eight years in City Hall before running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.