Ted Kennedy’s direct link to Camelot means that his endorsement of Barack Obama will have national implications. But its impact might be most acute in Massachusetts, one of the largest states to vote on February 5 and a very winnable target for Obama.
Polling has been sporadic in Massachusetts, but Hillary Clinton has led — often decisively — in the surveys taken so far. But her margins may shrink as the state’s electorate focuses more closely on the race, and in the wake of Obama’s South Carolina victory.
With Kennedy on board, Obama now has a monopoly on the Bay State’s highest profile Democrats: John Kerry signed on two weeks ago, and Governor Deval Patrick endorsed Obama late last fall.
To be sure, Clinton has her share of elected official support in Massachusetts. But generally, they are lower-profile and less dynamic establishment figures. Kennedy is a revered figure among rank-and-file Democrats, as is Patrick, the state’s first black governor (and the first black Democrat ever to win statewide office in Massachusetts). In fact, there are some remarkable thematic and stylistic similarities between the Obama campaign and Patrick’s own ’06 effort.
Not insignificantly, Obama is also being assisted by Phil Johnston, a loyal Kennedy family lieutenant who chaired the Massachusetts Democratic Party for a decade before stepping down last year.
A Massachusetts win would be a nice feather in Obama’s February 5 cap. Not only are 93 delegates at stake (the fifth most among the 23 states and territories voting on February 5), but it would refute suggestions that Obama has been marginalized as "the black candidate:" There are fewer blacks in Massachusetts per capita (five percent) than in Kansas, and George Wallace actually carried Boston in the 1972 Democratic primary.
A victory in Massachusetts, where just 33 years ago rocks were thrown at buses carrying black students to South Boston High, would serve as powerful evidence that Obama’s vision of a coalition that transcends old ethnic divides is more than just rhetoric.