January 28, 2008

Why the Kennedy Endorsement Matters

After the American Century

First it was Carolyn, comparing Obama to her father, President Jack Kennedy. Now the last of the legendary Kennedy brothers, Ted, has endorsed Obama. Traditionally, Teddy Kennedy has not endorsed primary candidates, preferring to play the role of the grand old man, who may work quietly behind the scenes, but publicly supports the Party. So this endorsement is big.

It is important because the demographic group that has been most hesitant about Obama are those over 60. But for that generation, the Kennedy Family remains iconic. For the Kennedy Family to present Obama as the successor to JFK is a major campaign event. Now Obama will inherit and revitalize the Kennedy coalition.

It is important because the Kennedy Family has enormous credibility in the Hispanic community, where Hillary has had an advantage until now.

It is important because the Kennedy network has strong labor ties, and will help bring these voters to Obama. Until now, Hillary has had an edge here, notably in the mill towns of New Hampshire.

It is important because Kennedy is one of the longest serving members of the Senate, where he is respected and has great influence. This endorsement signals, too, that Obama has impressed Ted Kennedy with his work in the Senate over the last four years.

It is important because Kennedy has made his decision eight days before Super Tuesday, at a moment when it will have the maximum impact on the electorate.

It is important because until now Obama has been fighting mostly alone, without any heavyweight supporters. Hillary would have her husband and Madelaine Albright, and many others. This gave her the aura of experience. Ted Kennedy will now be appearing in public at the Obama's side, giving him the gravitas of his decades of experience.

It is important because the Clintons have been courting Kennedy, hoping for his endorsement for Hillary. It seems clear that Bill Clinton's clumsy campaigning in South Carolina did more than turn the Black community and many young people against his wife's candidacy. Kennedy has rejected that style of campaign. If you think of a vast electoral scale, with Hillary on one side balanced by Obama on the other side, adding a Kennedy endorsement for either candidate could tip the balance in such a close contest. By opting for Obama, Kennedy has dramatically improved his chances.

Most of all, it is important because Kennedy is saying to the American people that Obama has the measure of greatness, that he has the stature to be compared with JFK.