Kennedy Family Split On Endorsements

Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., arrives at the 30th Annual Kennedy Center Honors December 2, 2007 in Washington, D.C. Nancy Ostertag/Getty Images

This story was written by Carrie Budoff Brown.

Like any other American family, the Kennedys are a house divided when it comes the 2008 presidential race.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and her sister, Kerry, have hit the trail for Hillary Rodham Clinton. So has their brother, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Old hands to President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy dote on Barack Obama, in part because he reminds them of the charismatic brothers.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver and a half-dozen other family members put money on Christopher Dodd.

And everybody wants to know where Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) will go. Yet he isn't talking - or likely to endorse.

A tangle of longstanding political ties, friendships and gut feelings has caused the Kennedys and those closely identified with them to scatter across the primary field. But the Democratic pursuit of their endorsements and their cash underline how the presidential candidates still chase the Kennedy imprimatur like it is their party's seal of approval, automatically transferring warm feelings of the family's legacy to them.

"There is certainly a romantic aspect to it," said Eric Smith, a press aide to former Rep. Dick Gephardt during his 2004 presidential campaign, which picked up support that year from U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island. "That period in the Democratic Party is one of great optimism. It is one that Democratic activists think of very fondly. So an association with that time is a positive in the eyes of Democratic activists."

Ted Kennedy is the biggest catch.

The senator reeled in Iowans for John Kerry in 2004, drawing crowds that only Howard Dean could muster. Democratic activist Bonnie Campbell, who was backing Dean, recalls walking into her Des Moines precinct on caucus night, spotting Kennedy in the doorway, and hearing her husband say: "We are screwed."

With a field this year that includes his Senate buddy (Dodd) and two members of his Senate committee (Clinton and Obama), Ted Kennedy appears ready to sit this one out.

"Senator Kennedy has no immediate plans to endorse a candidate," said a statement released by Kennedy's office. "He has very strong relationships with many of these candidates personally, and he has a lot of respect for them. Senator Kennedy believes that any one of them would make a great president. He looks forward to the campaign and seeing a Democrat elected to the White House."

His family is definitely picking sides, however.

But the former Kennedy aides are the ones drawing the most attention for their bold comparisons.

Obama received an email from Harris Wofford, 81, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and adviser to President John F. Kennedy, soon after his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention. The message: "Do not let this moment pass."

"He touches my soul, and I think he has touched the soul of America," said Wofford in an interview after endorsing Obama this month. "For me, no one has done that since John, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. I waited a long time to have that feeling."

For George Stevens Jr., the longtime producer of the Kennedy Center Honors who worked in the Kennedy administration, Obama "captures the spirit" of Bobby Kennedy.
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