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More On Why Kennedy's Endorsement Matters

I meant to respond to Jamie's item about how the Kennedy endorsement won't help Obama, then forgot, then was reminded by this nugget from The Page: It looks like Kennedy (and, presumably, his endorsement) will make a cameo in an Obama ad set to run on Spanish-language TV in California.

As for Jamie's point, he writes:

Sure, it's a dramatic rebuke to the Clintons, and the media loves this sort of stuff, but as far as actual electoral traction goes, it's difficult to see how this endorsement will, say, put a dent in Hillary's 37% lead in Massachusetts, the state where a Kennedy endorsement would most make a difference (it's doubtful that Patrick "I have never worked a f*&^ing day in my life" Kennedy will help Obama much in Rhode Island). Whatever the Kennedys' virtues, endorsements do not play the sort of role in convincing voters that the media portrays.

A couple of thoughts. First, that 37-point lead in Massachusetts is from a poll conducted before South Carolina, which will presumably give Obama a boost there.

More importantly, Jamie's absolutely right that endorsements don't usually bring many concrete benefits, mostly because we're a generation (or two) removed from the days when politicians had machines that could reliably deliver votes.

Having said that, when you look at the polls in those February 5 states, much of what you're seeing is Hillary's huge name-recognition and familiarity advantage. In this context, the beauty of Kennedy's endorsement is that he's incredibly well-known and well-liked among precisely the voters who don't know much about Obama--working-class whites, Latinos, seniors, etc. So Kennedy's endorsement not only makes a much-needed introduction, it does so on terms that are incredibly favorable to Obama.

Now, that won't neutralize Hillary's familiarity advantage in these places, but I suspect it will dent it significantly. Which is why it's tough to dismiss the Kennedy endorsement entirely.  

Update: A reader writes in with a great illustration of what I'm getting at:

Obama, as I'm sure you know, got a similar endorsement late in the game from Paul Simon's daughter during the Dem primary back in Illinois in '04. I think that endorsement served the same function in Illinois as you posit the Kennedy endorsement could serve nationwide this time around -- namely, it gave the credibility of a legendary Illinois Dem name to Obama among downstate, working-class Dems who might not have known much about Obama before.

--Noam Scheiber