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 (D-Miss.) during his 2004 presidential campaign, which picked up support that year from U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D) 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.
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“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.
Stevens, too, wrote Obama a letter to tell him so. And Stevens later signed on as an informal adviser to the campaign.
Theodore Sorensen, 79, a former speechwriter to President Kennedy, traveled to Iowa in October to endorse Obama and challenge the criticism of him as not yet ready, citing JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis as evidence.
“That young president who had been accused of being too inexperienced and too young successfully steered the counry through that crisis,” Sorensen said of Kennedy, who was 43 years old when he took office.
Obama, who would be 47 at his inauguration, seemingly does his part to encourage the link.
There was the February announcement speech, when he went hatless and gloveless on a frigid morning, stirring comparisons to President Kennedy’s inaugural address.
He talks of a new generation of leadership and moving past the political fights of the 1990s.
And he invokes the former president on the trail, usually as he defends his intention to talk to enemy states: “John F. Kennedy once said you should never negotiate out of fear, but never fear to negotiate.”
But if Obama is the new JFK, the late president's family hasn’t received the memo.
None has endorsed Obama, although several have donated to his campaign, with their contributions adding up to at least $9,000, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Kennedy family, including Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and her husband, Edwin, has sent more than $15,000 to Clinton.
Dodd has received more than $17,000 from members of the family, such as Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of the late president.
On endorsements, Clinton and Dodd have received $4,000 apiece from the family. None carry the heft of Sen. Kennedy, but each can claim their own constituencies.
In Clinton’s camp is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a well-known environmentalist; Kerry Kennedy, a human rights activist; Rory Kennedy, a documentary filmmaker; and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a former Maryland lieutenant governor and recognized female political leader.
On Dodd’s side is Rep. Patrick Kennedy Jr.; Ted Kennedy Jr., an advocate for people with disabilities; Timothy Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics; and Bobby Shriver, who works with U2's Bono on AIDS and debt relief.
In endorsing Dodd, they talked about his work on behalf of children, his stint in the Peace Corps and his support for foreign assistance. But they always came back to the personal — and who best embodied the Kennedy legacy.
“When my uncle Jack asked people in the country in 1960, ‘ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,' Sen. Dodd answered that call,” said Ted Kennedy Jr., “ and that's exactly the kind of inspiration that is needed in this country today.”