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First thoughts: Ted Kennedy is all in

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Ted Kennedy Is All In: The New York Times front-pages the news of Ted Kennedy endorsing Obama, which occurs today at 12:15 pm ET at American University in DC. "Both the Clintons and their allies had pressed Mr. Kennedy for weeks to remain neutral in the Democratic race, but Mr. Kennedy had become increasingly disenchanted with the tone of the Clinton campaign… He and former President Bill Clinton had a heated telephone exchange earlier this month over what Mr. Kennedy considered misleading statements by Mr. Clinton about Mr. Obama, as well as his injection of race into the campaign. Mr. Kennedy called Mr. Clinton Sunday to tell him of his decision." Did we read that correctly? Ted Kennedy called Bill Clinton -- and not Hillary -- to tell him of the decision? Anyway, the Clinton camp trotted out a statement from Kathleen Kennedy Townsend as a counterpunch to the endorsements from Teddy and Caroline Kennedy (and, per NBC's Andrea Mitchell, Patrick Kennedy will also be endorsing Obama). Umm, not quite the same impact...

*** Where Kennedy Helps Obama: The thing about a Kennedy endorsement is that once he's in, HE'S ALL IN. Ask Al Gore or John Kerry. Kennedy loves campaigning and when he hits the stump, he gets fired up. And as the Times reports, Kennedy is going to head West and then back to the Northeast to campaign for Obama. He could be particularly helpful for Obama in wooing rank-and-file, blue-collar Democrats as well as Latinos, two parts of the Democratic coalition Obama's under-performed with. Of course, Obama -- as this YouTube clip shows -- hasn't always had kind words for Kennedy…

*** Bush's swan song: President Bush steals the spotlight from the most competitive and fascinating presidential nominating contests in years when he delivers his final State of the Union address tonight. And when he gives that speech, he will do so as his ratings remain near -- or at -- all-time lows, according to the latest NBC/WSJ poll. Just 31% approve of his job as president, 29% approve of his handling of the economy, 28% approve of his handling of Iraq, and 32% view him positively versus 57% who see him in a negative light. What's more, 62% prefer Congress (whose approval rating stands at 18%) taking the lead role in setting policy for the country, compared with 21% who want Bush to do so. Finally, a whopping 70% of respondents believe that Bush's presidency will turn out either worse than most or not as good as most as the past several presidencies. By comparison, 45% said this of Bill Clinton (who has, of course, been in the news lately) in January of 1999.

*** Behind that FL turnout: A lot has been made of the higher-than-expected turnout among Florida Democrats. Let's not forget that one of the reasons turnout is a bit higher in the Florida primary could have as much to do with the contentious property tax ballot init that's on the state ballot tomorrow as it is with the presidential race. Millions of dollars has been spent on this fight over property taxes in the state. According to the Miami Herald, there's been an "avalanche of mailers and television ads from opponents and supporters of the property tax amendment." When you have millions being spent on something like this, you have lots of money being spent on absentee and early voting. So when watching the Florida returns, particularly on the Democratic side, realize there actually is a local pocketbook issue (property taxes) and a multi-million dollar campaign driving turnout. It wouldn't be surprising, in fact, to find out later that the ad campaigns for this property tax fight actually was more expensive than the presidential race. 
 
*** The Lieberman effect: One of the odder endorsers of this cycle has been Joe Lieberman's support of John McCain. What's been odder is that Lieberman has been such a high-profile surrogate. He was in Florida again for McCain, trying to deliver state to the potential GOP frontrunner, something he couldn't do for Al Gore. Romney is trying to use Lieberman's support to highlight some of McCain's less than conservative domestic positions. And Lieberman, while a national security hawk (or conservative, depending on your point of view), has a fairly left-of-center-to-liberal voting record on a number of domestic issues. Questions we're surprised haven't been asked of McCain regarding Lieberman. Why can't you get him to switch parties and switch control of the Senate to the GOP? Of course, the Democrats have treated Lieberman with kid gloves on this issue. But for one press release from DLC's Al From, criticizing Lieberman for endorsing a Republican for president, we've heard nary a peep from Democrats about Lieberman. Why? For that question we posed regarding Senate control. Democrats don't want to chase Lieberman out of the party and therefore cost them control of the Senate.

*** On the trail: On the Democratic side, Clinton stumps in Connecticut and Massachusetts before returning to DC for tonight's State of the Union; Edwards is in Tennessee and Missouri; and Obama picks up Ted Kennedy's endorsement at American University in DC. On the GOP side, Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, and Romney all campaign in Florida on the eve of that state's Republican primary.

Countdown to Florida: 1 day
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 8 days
Countdown to Chesapeake Tuesday: 15 days
Countdown to Ohio and Texas: 36 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 281 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 358 days

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