Sen. Ted Kennedy on Monday endorsed Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign, lending the full weight of the Kennedy name to a candidate who is seeking to defeat the Clinton political machine.
Making explicit comparisons to his slain brothers, Kennedy, D-Mass., appeared at a rally in Washington alongside his niece, Caroline, and his son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., to make his endorsement official.
"I feel change in the air," Kennedy said to thunderous applause, with a turn-away crowd of more than 4,000 crowding an auditorium at American University.
"Every time I've been asked over the past year who I would support in the Democratic Primary, my answer has always been the same: I'll support the candidate who inspires me, who inspires all of us, who can lift our vision and summon our hopes and renew our belief that our country's best days are still to come," Kennedy said.
"I've found that candidate," he added. "He will be a president who refuses to be trapped in the patterns of the past."
Though Kennedy went out of his way to praise Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former senator John Edwards, his kind words for Obama included a mention of that fact that Obama has run a largely positive campaign.
"He is a fighter who cares passionately about the causes he believes in, without demonizing those who hold a different view," Kennedy said.
In a veiled reference to former President Bill Clinton -- who has questioned Obama's opposition to the war in Iraq -- Kennedy said Obama has consistently opposed the war. And he said Obama would "turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion" -- another apparent tweak at the Clintons, whom he has accused of distorting Obama's record.
"There is the courage, when so many others were silent or simply went along, from the beginning, he opposed the war in Iraq," he said. "And let no one deny that truth."
Sen. Ted Kennedy brings with him a complex bag of sentiments and historical crosscurrents (along with Caroline Kennedy and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.) when he makes his endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama official at American University at around noon ET.
No wonder Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to "take a deep breath." She's not just running against Obama anymore -- she's facing down a movement, one that's adding the support of an old guard that's trying to take the Democratic Party back from the family that's dominated it for 16 years.
It's as if the members of the party establishment (those established independent of the Clintons) have suddenly remembered, almost at once, that they don't love the Clintons.
And one more voice weighs in: Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison -- who in 1998 declared Bill Clinton to be the nation's "first black president -- plans to announce her endorsement of Obama on Monday, an Obama campaign source tells The Note.
Meanwhile, Monday night at 9 pm ET, President Bush delivers his final State of the Union address, laying down markers for what promises to be a rough (if not irrelevant) last year.
It's a glimpse of a presidency in decline, without the spark the GOP so desperately wants from its party leaders. The president's tour through Iraq, earmarks, AIDS funding, FISA, tax cuts, and the economy is likely to be less inspiration than distraction to a Republican presidential field that can't figure out what to do with a president that none of them wants to run from or toward.
Kennedy, D-Mass., uses his brothers' legacy lightly and carefully, so his anointing of Obama means something -- with the party's elite liberal base, but also with the blue-collar Democrats who grew up with pictures of John on their walls, and Latinos (particularly in California) who recall Bobby fighting alongside Cesar Chavez (and don't forget immigration reform).
Kennedy will appear with niece Caroline Kennedy, son Patrick Kennedy, and Obama himself in Washington, at American University, where JFK delivered one of his most famous speeches, in June 1963.
It's a nudge meant to suggest that "Obama's claim to the mantle of generations of Kennedys," Susan Milligan writes in The Boston Globe.
"The coveted endorsement is a huge blow to 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."
The veteran senator is lending Obama "Kennedy charisma and connections before the 22-state Feb. 5 showdown for the Democratic nomination," Jeff Zeleny and Carl Hulse write in The New York Times. "The endorsement, which followed a public appeal on Mr. Obama's behalf by Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy, was a blow to the Clinton campaign and pits leading members of the nation's most prominent Democratic families against one another."
Another reason why Ted matters: He didn't want to (or have to) do this. (And Bill Clinton's personal appeals for him to stay out of the race didn't stop him.)
"The endorsement appears to support assertions that Mr. Clinton's campaigning on behalf of his wife in South Carolina has in some ways hurt her candidacy," Zeleny and Hulse continue. "Campaign officials, without acknowledging any faults on Mr. Clinton's part, have said they will change tactics and try to shift Mr. Clinton back into the role he played before her loss in the Iowa caucuses, emphasizing her record and experience."
The timing (and Kennedy knows this) is such that the decision looks like a reaction to President Clinton's campaign behavior. "Kennedy's decision came after weeks of his rising frustration with the Clintons over campaign tactics, particularly comments by the couple and their surrogates in South Carolina that seemed to carry racial overtones," Shailagh Murray and Anne Kornblut write in The Washington Post.
"Kennedy expressed his frustrations directly to the former president, but to no avail."
It's not just the Kennedys who are falling into line for Obama, as the non-Clinton Democratic establishment comes together coalesces (along with with scattered red-staters -- and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, D-Kan., is next, after she delivers the Democratic response to the State of the Union) to try to steer a party into a new direction.
Obama spoke both for them and to them, in an interview on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" on Sunday. "There is no doubt that I think that in the '90s, we got caught up in a slash-and-burn politics that the American people are weary of," Obama said. "And we still see it in Washington today."
It's been a long time coming, The New Republic's Noam Scheiber reports in the magazine's new issue. "For people like [John] Kerry and [Tom] Daschle and especially their former advisers, the Clintons' continued presence at the center of Democratic politics has sometimes chafed over the last eight years," Scheiber writes.
"It may not be apparent beyond the Beltway, but the Clintons kept their grip on Democratic Washington long after leaving the White House. . . . If you've looked for a job in the Democrats' government-in-exile lately, chances are you've hit up a Clintonite."
How did the Clintons burn so much goodwill so quickly? Why is the establishment candidate facing a revolt from inside the establishment?
Start with persistent concerns that Sen. Clinton's candidacy would guarantee a revival of the pitched partisan battles of the past two decades. Sprinkle in Bill's performance of the last few weeks, which persisted right up through the primary in South Carolina with his comparison of Obama to Jesse Jackson.
Add to it a broader sense of how Hillary was running her campaign -- another factor that hurt her with voters in South Carolina every bit as much as it hurt her with party regulars in Washington, Bloomberg's Al Hunt writes.
"Hyperbole is a staple of American political campaigns. Senator Hillary Clinton has crossed the line into distortion," writes Hunt (hardly a Clinton basher). "She has flagrantly misrepresented her own and her opponents' positions or statements. The general tone, more than any specifics, of the Clinton effort contributed to Barack Obama's stunning 2-to-1 victory over her in the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary this past weekend."
Telling sentence from Hunt's column: "The Clinton campaign didn't respond to multiple requests for comment, instead sending a dozen examples of alleged Obama distortions."
None of this changes the electoral landscape, and the playing field still favors Clinton on Feb. 5. "Mr. Obama heads into the 22-state showdown as the underdog," Christopher Cooper and Amy Chozick write in The Wall Street Journal.
"The Illinois senator trails Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York by large margins in polls in most of the big states voting Feb. 5. And he lacks the time or resources to campaign intensively in many of those far-flung races to close the gaps."
Clinton has enjoyed a big edge among Latinos in previous contests, and California leads a long list of Hispanic-heavy states that are set to be heard from. And four of the 22 states that will choose Democratic convention delegates Feb. 5 -- New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Arkansas -- are practically home games for Clinton. Together, they account for about a quarter of the delegates at stake Super Tuesday, Janet Hook reports in the Los Angeles Times.
"The Illinois senator faces a monumental contest that does not play to his strengths," Hook writes. "In California, which holds the biggest cache of delegates, polls show Clinton has a commanding -- although narrowed -- lead over Obama. Moreover, the multi-state field of Super Tuesday does not play to Obama's signature strength: his ability to win over voters in live town-hall settings, using his soaring oratory and personal charm."
And "winning" states may not even count as wins, at least not when delegate math comes into play, as candidates prepare for a "potentially protracted scramble for delegates Congressional district by Congressional district," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times.
"Given Democratic rules, it is entirely possible for one candidate to win a majority of Feb. 5 states, and enjoy the election night ratification that comes with a TV network map displaying the geographic sweep of that person's accomplishment, while his (or her) opponent ends the night with the most delegates," Nagourney writes.
"The possibility of a long-term slog is real for Democrats, given that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama appear evenly matched in resources and political talent."
As for Bill, Blame "human nature" or "sleep deprivation" -- and Sen. Clinton seemed to blame her husband's behavior on both Sunday on "Face the Nation."
"I think that the spouses of all three of us have, you know, been passionate and vigorous defenders of each of us and, you know, maybe got a little carried away," she said.
(New York Post headline: "Wild Bill.")
Now that he's made a mess, Camp Clinton is hoping that the former president will play clean. The campaign "will try to shift the former president back into the sunnier, supportive-spouse role that he played before Mrs. Clinton's loss in the Iowa caucuses, Clinton advisers said," per Patrick Healy of The New York Times (and underline the word "try").
So it's back to Iowa Bill -- building crowds, crowing about his wife, talking policy, not politics. Easy, right? Well . . .
"But Democrats said it was not clear whether the effects of Mr. Clinton's high profile could be brushed away by having him modulate his campaign style," Healy writes. "They said Mr. Clinton had upset some of the central themes of Mrs. Clinton's campaign, including her appeal to women and her assertions that her time in the White House during the 1990s amounted to vital experience rather than a link to a presidency defined as much by scandal and partisan divisions as by its successes on fronts like the economy."
Sen. Clinton knows that she needs to change the campaign's dynamics -- or those Feb. 5 leads won't look so solid a few days from now. Clinton "called for calm after fending off criticism her campaign -- particularly husband Bill -- had issued racially insensitive comments, especially Bubba's comparison of Obama's South Carolina success to Jesse Jackson's past performances there," Michael Saul and Michael McAuliff write in the New York Daily News.
Clinton's next play is Florida, where her campaign very much wants the media to treat her like a winner in the only (sort of) contest standing between now and Feb. 5. She plans to sweep into the Sunshine State Tuesday night to collect a victory in a state she and her rivals agreed to ignore, as punishment for jumping the line.
She is set for a Florida romp. The new Quinnipiac University poll out Monday morning has Clinton up 50-30-12 over Obama and John Edwards in Florida. On the Republican side, more bad news for Rudy: It's McCain 32, Romney 31, Giuliani 14, and Huckabee 13.
Obama's not taking the Florida bait -- yet. And looking ahead, aside from the biggies, "Obama is focusing on six states that hold caucuses Feb. 5 -- Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota and North Dakota -- where the campaign believes the organizational prowess it proved in Iowa could win again," John McCormick and Mike Dorning write in the Chicago Tribune.
Obama is also courting Latinos in California with his support for driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, per the San Francisco Chronicle's Carolyn Lochhead. "Sen. Barack Obama easily won the African American vote in South Carolina, but to woo California Latinos, where he is running 3-to-1 behind rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, he is taking a giant risk: spotlighting his support for the red-hot issue of granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants," Lochhead writes.
"It's a huge issue for Latinos, who want them. It's also a huge issue for the general electorate, which most vehemently does not."
As the former president recasts his role, the current president looks for some of the same. With his State of the Union address Monday night, Bush's biggest challenge may be getting people to pay attention to him again.
"For the first time in four years, he will come before Congress able to report some progress in tamping down violence in Iraq. Yet the public appears to have moved on from the war -- and possibly from Bush himself," Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post. "The economy has supplanted Iraq as the top public concern, and with voters shifting their focus toward the presidential primaries, Bush faces a steep challenge in persuading Americans to heed his words on the war, economic policy or any other issue."
The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg asks the right legacy question for a president who never focuses on legacy: "Will George W. Bush be remembered as the president who lost the economy while trying to win a war?" Stolberg writes.
"If the president ends his term in a recession, it will be difficult for him to point to any real economic progress on his watch."
Don't expect an ambitious new agenda for his final 12 months: "The speech will not be filled with bold new ideas; the White House concedes that the time for ambitious plans like overhauling Social Security and revamping immigration policy is past." Stolberg reports.
It's the "one annual day of pomp when even a lame-duck president reigns," ABC's John Hendren writes. "The president does have an overarching theme for the address." Says Chief White House speech writer William McGurn: "He did say 'I'd like to give a speech on, you know, how my governing philosophy is trusting the people."
ABC's Ann Compton reports that the president will say he will ignore earmarks in conference report language -- though not in actual legislation -- saying that if the projects are worthy, Congress should debate them out in the open.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board got a preview: "We're told he will tell Congress that he will veto any fiscal 2009 spending bill that doesn't cut earmarks in half from 2008 levels. He will also report that he is issuing a Presidential order informing executive departments that from now on they should refuse to fund earmarks that aren't explicitly mentioned in statutory language."
Turning to Bush's would-be successors inside the GOP, there is a very big contest on tap Tuesday in Florida.
For Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., it's a chance to win a contest with rank-and-file Republicans (the type that Roberta McCain sees holding their nose and voting for her son).
For former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., it's a chance to build momentum (and maybe save him a few dollars in the Feb. 5 states).
For former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., it's a chance to get back into the conversation (and maybe get the press plane flying again with a cash injection)
For former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., it's a chance for his campaign to survive (period).
McCain "is now accumulating a base of support among party regulars who see him as the strongest general election candidate in the remaining Republican field," John M. Broder writes in The New York Times.
New McCain endorser Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla.: "I think Tuesday will be very telling, and it will be a great day for Senator McCain."
Not all Republicans are sold on him, however -- and it's not just Rush Limbaugh fuming that McCain would destroy the party.
"As McCain tries to cement his front-runner status in the Republican presidential race with a win in Florida on Tuesday, the question is whether party leaders and loyalists, frustrated by years of what they consider McCain's grandstanding at their expense, will back him should he win the nomination," the Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman writes.
Says former senator Rick Santorum, R-Pa.: "It's not just that he doesn't think like I do -- it's the manner in which he goes about it."
McCain has scooped up the backing of Crist and Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., but there won't be an endorsement coming from perhaps the biggest Florida fish: former governor Jeb Bush, R-Fla. "I really think that the Republican voters have a good grasp on who to support," Bush writes in an e-mail to Politico's Jonathan Martin.
"I committed to be neutral and intend to keep my word."
Both McCain and Romney are on the offensive -- McCain blasting Romney over his position on the war in Iraq, while all Romney wants to talk about is the economy. "The quarreling between Mitt Romney and John McCain in the closing days of the Florida primary highlights their clash over whether Republicans should make the economy or national security their top priority in choosing a presidential nominee," Seema Mehta, Louise Roug and Maeve Reston write in the Los Angeles Times.
"On Sunday, Romney went on the offensive, trying to turn his rival's earlier admission that he knew more about foreign affairs than the economy into a liability during appearances in Miami," John Kennedy writes in the Orlando Sentinel.
Romney is dialing it up another notch Monday morning, per ABC's John Berman, Matt Stuart, and Ursula Fahy. "In a new rhetorical flourish from Romney, he said that McCain is known for just 3 pieces of legislation: McCain-Feingold, which regulated campaign finance, McCain-Kennedy, which Romney calls an amnesty bill, and McCain-Lieberman which seeks to set caps on carbon emissions," they report.
"None of these bills are popular with the Republican base."
It's a new Romney on the stump in Florida, Time's Michael Scherer reports. "The initial product launch failed, so he has recreated himself as something not so far from the person he actually is -- a nerd, who knows how to handle money and make things work," he writes. "Thanks to that miscalculation, voters in Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire were bombarded with television ads and direct mail about "strength" and "optimism," his distain for illegal immigration and the three-legged stool of the conservative coalition he only joined in the last few years."
As for Giuliani -- he's locked in about as bad a dynamic as one can imagine, slipping in the polls (and in media attention) in the state he's put all of his attention on for the past month. "The date on the calendar will say 1/29, but for Rudy Giuliani, Tuesday is a day that - like 9/11 - will undoubtedly define him for years to come," David Saltonstall writes in the New York Daily News.
"Will he become the Republican "Rocky," who stuns the pundits in Tuesday's Florida primary? Or will his odd, late-game strategy and personal foibles leave him and his campaign to fry in the Sunshine State?"
He's letting himself slip into the past tense just a bit too easily, and quotes like these probably don't help: "The rumors of my demise are premature," he tells USA Today's David Jackson.
"This is a question of momentum, right?" (Right -- precisely.)
This was the most important political event of the weekend you didn't hear about: It's the trial lawyers' conference in Puerto Rico, and both the Clinton and Obama campaigns had it staked out. "With South Carolina primary returns showing Edwards a distant third, [Terry] McAuliffe and [Julianna] Smoot both sensed an opportunity: Some of the Democratic Party's most prolific fundraisers were looking for a new candidate to get behind," The Washington Post's Matthew Mosk reports.
"So in conference rooms, at the casino and by the pool, the Obama and Clinton finance officials engaged in what could only be described as a campaign within the campaign, this one targeting financial backers instead of voters."
The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz picks up on an interesting strain of the Obama campaign: "In an age of all-out political warfare, the Obama campaign is a bit of an odd duck: It is not obsessed with winning each news cycle," Kurtz writes. "The Illinois senator remains a remote figure to those covering him, and his team, while competent and professional, makes only spotty attempts to drive its preferred story lines in the press."
Says Obama strategist David Axelrod: The Clinton camp "is hyperbolic about it. What we don't do is spend six hours a day trying to persuade you guys that red is green or up is down. . . . Their own spin was 'We are the biggest, baddest street gang on the block.' "
"He has very flat feet. He has no arches in his feet." -- Dentist Lester Sitzes III, on his old friend Mike Huckabee, per The Washington Post's Joel Achenbach.
"I'd like for my direct political involvement to go way down." -- Bill Clinton, in a 2002 interview about his post-presidential period, to James Fallows.
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