Sunday, January 27, 2008

ABC News: Ted Kennedy to Endorse Obama; Also: Explaining The Problem With Florida

After a stirring 28% victory in South Carolina, where Barack Obama not only won 80% of the votes of African Americans, but showed he could win the votes of white voters as well (as he proved by convincingly winning in Iowa and coming in a close second in New Hampshire, states with a 95%-plus white population) as he tied Hillary Clinton among white men and won over 50% of the vote from white voters under 30, the Obama campaign is showing strong momentum going into February 5th when 23-states have caucuses and primaries. And his support among white men and young white voters shows that no matter how the Clinton campaign or others try to characterize Obama's blowout victory, this was no Jesse Jackson, one-dimensional victory. It was a broad base of support among both white and black voters, a coming together like we saw in Iowa, and like we may see across the country in the next few weeks. And today, rumors are rumbling of a possible giant endorsement coming Barack Obama's way: Senator Ted Kennedy, one of the largest Democratic figures in the country who has yet to endorse a candidate (former Vice President Al Gore remains on the sidelines, likely tepid after his endorsement of Howard Dean in 2004 failed).

First, though, Obama received a stirring and powerful endorsement this morning in the New York Times in a beautifully written editorial by Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the former President. In it she passes the Kennedy torch to Obama, writing about how Obama inspires the country, just as many say her father did in the 1960s.

Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible.

We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Obama. It isn’t that the other candidates are not experienced or knowledgeable. But this year, that may not be enough. We need a change in the leadership of this country — just as we did in 1960.

I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.

And now, Kennedy's uncle, Ted, may be joining the Obama team as well. Just last night, on MSNBC's always suburb primary coverage, Newsweek's Howard Fineman said he expected Kennedy to remain on the sideline, waiting in the wings to re-unite the Democratic party, should, as is increasingly possible, this battle between Clinton and Obama (and Edwards) goes to the convention. Yet,'s Mark Halperin leaked word this morning that Kennedy was leaning towards an Obama endorsement (a notion not denied by Obama this morning on ABC's This Week) and ABC News is now reporting that Kennedy will in fact endorse Obama tomorrow in Washington D.C. in a rally before George W. Bush's State of the Union Address. The endorsement, in many ways, is huge for Obama. It gives him the full backing of the Kennedy family, and adds further fuel to the narrative that he is in the mold of both John and Bobby Kennedy and is a unifying force like both brothers Kennedy. It also provides him with the seal of approval from another senior statesman of the Democratic Party (to go along with John Kerry, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and current Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy).

And according to the Boston Globe, Kennedy will do more than simply endorse Obama, he plans to campaign hard for Obama up and through February 5th.
Kennedy believes Obama can ``transcend race'' and bring unity to the country, a Kennedy associate told the Globe. Kennedy was also impressed by Obama's deep involvement last year in the bipartisan effort to craft legislation on immigration reform, a politically touchy subject the other presidential candidates avoided, the associate said.

The coveted endorsement is a huge blow to New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who is both a senatorial colleague and a friend of the Kennedy family. In a campaign where Clinton has trumpeted her experience over Obama's call for hope and change, the endorsement by one of the most experienced and respected Democrats in the Senate is a particularly dramatic coup for Obama.

While polls show Clinton ahead in some large states, including her home state of New York and delegate-rich California, the Kennedy endorsement gives Obama a stamp of approval among key constituencies in the Democratic party that could make Super Tuesday more competitive.

Kennedy plans to campaign actively for Obama, an aide said, and will focus particularly among Hispanics and labor union members, who are important voting blocks in several Feb. 5 states, including California, New York, New Jersey, Arizona and New Mexico.

It's hard to go after Obama's inexperience with such powerful and experienced people backing his candidacy, giving Obama much needed credibility going into states where he is not nearly as well known as Clinton.

And it's that name recognition factor which is why I've been so angry with the Clintons for turning Florida into more than what it should be and for claiming victory in Michigan where she was the only candidate on the ballot. I've again and again on my frustration with Clintons (and I use the plural form for a reason) instance that Florida count for anything. Now, those Clinton supporters will claim that if Obama were up in the polls in Florida I'd feel different, and that the voices of Floridans should be heard. And I agree that the voices of voters in both Florida and Michigan are important, but the reason why the media should ignore these contests (and they have ignored Michigan for the most part) and why I get so agitated when I read Clinton is going to Florida Tuesday night for a victory speech (designed, no doubt, to get media coverage of her "victory" there to blunt Obama's momentum heading into Super Tuesday) is because they are nothing more than contests over name recognition.

There is no question, none, that everyone, whether they follow the primaries or not, whether they read the newspaper or not, knows who Hillary Clinton is. Or, the the very least, they know who her husband is, and they take their feelings of him and impute them on her. Barack Obama, on the other hand, is not very well known. I think being in this primary bubble and watching MSNBC everyday and following this race non-stop we forget that Obama is a one-term Senator from Illinois, and while that is used as a weapon against him by the Clintons, it's important in another way, because a lot of voters don't know anything about Obama. So when they take a poll or vote in a primary where Obama has agreed not to campaign, they have no frame of reference to support him, no views or knowledge of who he is or what his vision for America is. We think everyone pays attention to Iowa and New Hampshire and Nevada and South Carolina. Truth is, people, for the most part, don't. So voters don't know Obama, so of course they are going to gravitate towards somebody they do know, like Hillary Clinton, when given that option. That's why Florida doesn't matter. It's not that Floridians don't matter, it's that their voices, as reflected in whatever the vote totals are on Tuesday night, are not an indication of anything about whether Floridians, allowed to have a full campaign, would still support Clinton in the numbers that will be shown on Tuesday. It's all about name ID and Clinton certainly has a monumental edge, still, over Obama in that category.

That's the problem with Florida.

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