The Kennedy factor in the '04 race

Help from a liberal lion has aided Kerry at key moments, despite its risks with swing voters.

A glance at top staff around John Kerry Tuesday night might prompt the assumption that it's the other senator from Massachusetts who is about to win the Democratic nomination for president.

Campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill is Sen. Edward Kennedy's former chief of staff. Press secretary Stephanie Cutter is a former Kennedy press secretary. Senior campaign adviser Bob Shrum wrote the convention speech that formally ended Kennedy's hopes for the presidency in 1980.

That speech ended with the words that electrified that convention: "For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

In effect, Kennedy's own prospects for the presidency died with the passenger of a car he was driving 35 years ago this month. But his energy and star power are infusing the Kerry campaign in ways that will be obvious Tuesday night when Kennedy addresses the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston.

"Kennedy said when he withdrew as a candidate for president forever in the summer of 1980, 'The dream shall never die.' I think he really believes that, and that dream now reposes in his junior colleague," says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.

The obvious risk, for Kerry, is that the Kennedy association could reinforce an image he's trying to downplay: that of a hardcore Massachusetts liberal. The reward, however, has been just as evident. In December, as the Kerry campaign floundered and pundits thought Howard Dean unstoppable, it was Kennedy and a cadre of his aides who came to the rescue. Kennedy lent advice and staff to a Kerry campaign shakeup that refocused Kerry's message and helped him win a crucial first test for potential nominees: Iowa.

The two men spoke often, say campaign sources. And from New Hampshire to New Mexico (avoiding the South), Kennedy stumped vigorously for Kerry. His roaring intros brought a passion to the early campaign - and a connection to the party faithful - that the candidate had lacked. Kerry accepts that nomination Thursday in Boston - a convention location that Kennedy muscled through party leadership.

Both men call Boston home. But much of the glitter and glamour of this week belong to Kennedy. Monday, he hosted an up-to-$50,000-a-plate fundraiser for the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial and dedicated a memorial to his mother, Rose. After his speech Tuesday night Kennedy will be honored at a black-tie tribute.

No other Democrat not named Clinton has the emotional power that Kennedy brings. His baritone roar cracks at the edges now, but still lifts a crowd to its feet, as he rails on Republicans for failing the poor, the disabled, students, seniors, and working families.

Kennedy remains an unabashed liberal. The Bush campaign calls him an "attack dog for Kerry." In March, Bush supporters launched TV ads aimed at depicting Kerry as being "another Kennedy" - a charge that plays well to the GOP base in the South. Several top southern Democratic candidates are skipping the convention this year, in part to avoid the Kennedy connection.

In fact, the Kerry-Kennedy relationship is more nuanced. While Kennedy helped Kerry in his early campaigns, including his first failing run for the House of Representatives in 1972, he was not one of his earliest presidential race endorsers.

Since his 1984 election to the US Senate, Kerry has lived in the shadow of his "master legislator" senior colleague. As a result, Kerry focused on high-profile investigations, from bank scandals to missing POWs in Vietnam, rather than lawmaking.

Yet, the two men have had big disagreements. When Kerry expressed doubts over a Kennedy-sponsored increase in the minimum age in January 1995, Kennedy berated him at a caucus meeting: "If you're not for raising the minimum wage, you don't deserve to call yourself a Democrat," he said, according to Kennedy biographer Adam Clymer.

More recently, the two senators disagreed over the 2002 vote that authorized the White House to use force in Iraq, which Kennedy and 22 other Senate Democrats opposed.

But in the fire of the 2004 campaign, a somewhat distant relationship has become close. Aides say Kennedy is as vested in Kerry's success as if he were running himself.

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