Monday, January 28, 2008

The Kennedy Legacy and the Gopher State

The last 48 hours have been an interesting time to think about the role of the Kennedy legacy in Democratic politics. Beginning with Caroline Kennedy's endorsement in the New York Times (which captured more press interest than the endorsement of the Times editorial board itself), and followed up by an endorsement by Senator Ted Kennedy, who stands as the symbol of the 'Democratic wing of the Democratic party,' it's been a great weekend for Barack Obama.

And Kennedy will undoubtedly be valuable to Obama in Latino barrios, in union halls, and among old-school liberals. After all, his endorsement of Al Gore in 2000, and his series of stemwinders in union halls in Iowa, was key in that caucus. His help -- in both staff and 'gravitas' -- to John Kerry helped steady that ship during the rough waters in late 2003.

But what Ted Kennedy's endorsement may signal is more subtle: that other superdelegates should 'hold on' in case this race is not clearly settled on February 5th. In such case, the race may go on to Maryland, Virginia, Ohio and other states, and if no single candidate can achieve a majority of delegates, the role of the "supers" may be increased. (The role for John Edwards, to the degree he can continue to accumulate delegates and prevent any other candidate from achieving a majority, is similar.)

Hillary's greatest source of strength (as this is written) is her large leads in the vast majority of Super-Tuesday-states. It is becoming clear that where Obama can set up shop and campaign (Iowa, NH, Nevada, and South Carolina), he can compete with the inherent Clinton advantages. Unfortunately, he has to try do the same across 20 states simultaneously between now and next Tuesday.

The categorical rejection by the voters of South Carolina of the 'old style' politics -- slash-and-burn, distortions, and personal attacks -- does not bode well for the Clinton future. After all, the 1992 campaign was defined by the Clinton "War Room", where these tactics were perfected -- at least on the Democratic side (until Karl Rove expanded micro-targetting to new levels.)

Bill Clinton famously analogized the results in SC to those of 1984, where Jesse Jackson won. Like Walter Mondale in 1984, Hillary seems to be a vestige of an older age, and one the country has passed by; she may be able to hold on to the majority of delegates on Super Tuesday, but she does not seem to embody the future.

But a better analogy is Obama to RFK, who brought a new coalition together for a few short weeks in 1968. And Hillary is certainly no "Happy Warrior."

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