Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Of Kennedys and California

Some new polls came out Monday, showing Hillary leading in California among other states, though these polls were all taken well before the South Carolina primary. The Survey USA poll in particular caught online attention for its estimate of the votes already cast (pre-voting, absentee) in CA, heavily for Hillary. Some bloggers called the lead insurmountable, but one--Al Giordano at the Field--studied it more closely, and saw gold for Obama in CA. His conclusion based on the numbers is that at the time the poll was taken the CA primary was already very close, if not a dead heat. And this was before South Carolina and the Kennedys. But these events won't be reflected in new polls until Friday.

If you believe Obama has major momentum in a conventional way, and you go by the numbers so far, it would seem that he can win lots of delegates and some southern and midwestern states outright, win some western states (he was already leading in Colorado), but Hillary is too far ahead in the big eastern states. That makes California crucial to both of them, but for Obama it is the big prize that is within reach.

After the big show at American University Monday, where Caroline Kennedy and Rep. Patrick Kennedy joined Senator Ted Kennedy in endorsing Obama, Ted (and perhaps another Kennedy or two) goes immediately to California and the West, to rally Latinos and labor union voters.

A number of pundits commented today on the Kennedy endorsements. Marc Ambinder in the Atlantic thinks that more than most, " Ted Kennedy matters," not just in appeal to voting blocks, but in reinforcing Obama's message:

In some ways, there may be no member of the Democratic pantheon who better reflects the consensus-based, transformative and activist-oriented politics that Obama embraces. And so Kennedy can be an enormously effective advocate for Obama because he understands, and, indeed, has practiced the New Politics.

There are 8 days till Super Tuesday. Thanks to Ted Kennedy and Camelot, Obama's won two of them. And because momentum seems to attenuate quickly, rolling out these endorsements when the spotlight was already on Obama extends the battery life for another 24 hours.

Others gathered around the Charlie Rose table agreed that Ted Kennedy gives Obama instant credibility--if he thinks Obama is ready for the presidency, then a lot of the experience qualms go away. And they also agreed that while Kennedy's endorsement (and his speech making it) accented the positive about Obama, it also was a blow to the Clintons. As Ambinder wrote: "On a more visceral level, Ted Kennedy's endorsing your opponent is probably as big of a rebuke as there is in the Democratic Party -- even bigger than South Carolina."

There was further discussion and confirmation of the enormous backlash against Billary, but particularly Bill Clinton, in Washington. There was speculation that for many, BC's comment about Jesse Jackson winning South Carolina was the last straw--and the last straw man. The question of whether the rest of the country (outside South Carolina) is feeling this was raised among the Rose guests, but one of them at least felt the beyond-the-Beltway event of the past few days wasn't Ted Kennedy's endorsement, but Caroline Kennedy's. Because she is not a politician, not even much of a public figure, and her endorsement was so straightforward and heartfelt, it makes an emotional connection with people who, through memory or legend, feel that same connection to JFK. This speaks to the possibility of a truly transformative moment--a tidal wave--that will make all the politiking over Super/Tsunami Tuesday irrelevant.

For those of us of a more political bent--especially if we started on this dubious road because of JFK--these events were also highly emotional. Passing the torch really means something, especially as we feel so deeply about the "unfinished business" that JFK described, that RFK described, and that we have watched become buried in barbarism for most of our years.

But everyone has their own ties to that era. Here's how Obama expressed it:

" Today isn't just about politics for me. It's personal. I was too young to remember John Kennedy and I was just a child when Robert Kennedy ran for President. But in the stories I heard growing up, I saw how my grandparents and mother spoke about them, and about that period in our nation's life - as a time of great hope and achievement. And I think my own sense of what's possible in this country comes in part from what they said America was like in the days of John and Robert Kennedy.

I believe that's true for millions of Americans. I've seen it in offices in this city where portraits of John and Robert hang on office walls or collections of their speeches sit on bookshelves. And I've seen it in my travels all across this country. Because no matter where I go, or who I talk to, one thing I can say for certain is that the dream has never died. "

That last sentence was a classy tribute to Ted Kennedy, whose own presidential bid ended in defeat in 1980, but his speech to the Democratic Convention that summer was its most powerful moment, and the signature line of that speech was: "The dream will never die."

Obama revealed one of those personal connections that makes politics so fascinating and real. He spoke about his father: "I barely knew him, but when, after his death, I finally took my first trip to his tiny village in Kenya and asked my grandmother if there was anything left from him, she opened a trunk and took out a stack of letters, which she handed to me. There were more than thirty of them, all handwritten by my father, all addressed to colleges and universities across America, all filled with the hope of a young man who dreamed of more for his life. And his prayer was answered when he was brought over to study in this country.

But what I learned much later is that part of what made it possible for him to come here was an effort by the young Senator from Massachusetts at the time, John F. Kennedy, and by a grant from the Kennedy Foundation to help Kenyan students pay for travel. So it is partly because of their generosity that my father came to this country, and because he did, I stand before you today - inspired by America's past, filled with hope for America's future, and determined to do my part in writing our next great chapter."

Because of Robert Kennedy's ties with the Farmworkers, because his last electoral victory was in California, and even because California likes starpower, in addition to the reasons that pertain to the rest of the country as well, California is going to be moved by what happened today.

As for tomorrow, Obama goes to the Midwest where he'll get another high profile endorsement, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who gave an Obama-like response to Bush's State of the Union Address. Oh yeah, that happened today, too.

Today Obama was also endorsed by the Nobel Prize winning author who once dubbed Bill Clinton the first black President: Toni Morrison. Meanwhile, there are mixed messages in the wind about whether Al Gore will endorse Obama later this week.

Florida votes tomorrow. The GOPer primary still looks tight between McCain and Romney. Smart money is on Romney. Rudy may be an ex-candidate by the end of the night. Hillary will be in Florida election night to thank voters for giving her a victory versus nobody, but could this backfire? There is so much hostility towards the Clintons in the media right now that it's a bit scary.

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