Today's Papers

Kennedy Seal of Approval

The New York Timesleads with news that Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts will endorse Sen. Barack Obama today. Even though Kennedy had previously said he would stay neutral in the race, he apparently changed his mind after growing increasingly frustrated with the tone of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Kennedy has vowed to campaign strongly for Obama, and could help him gain support among union workers and Hispanics, who are a core part of Clinton’s supporters. Despite Obama’s wide victory in South Carolina, and his newly gained establishment endorsement, he still faces a tough road ahead in the battle for the 22 states that will hold contests on Feb. 5, says the Los Angeles Timesin its lead story. As the Wall Street Journal also notes in the lead spot, Obama clearly trails Clinton in nationwide polls, and is behind in most of the big states that will vote on Tsunami Tuesday.

The Washington Postleads with a look at tonight’s State of the Union speech and notes that it will be difficult for President Bush to get Americans to listen to what he has to say because of his low approval ratings and the fact that so much of the public’s attention is being consumed by the presidential primaries. Tonight will mark the first time in four years that Bush will be able to stand up and credibly say there has been progress in Iraq, but now the economy has taken over as the top issue and that will be the real focus of tonight’s address. Bush is likely to shy away from any big policy initiatives and will instead focus on “unfinished business” he hopes to get done by the end of the year. USA Today  says that by focusing on legislation, and not his legacy, Bush will be “stealing a page from Ronald Reagan’s playbook.” USAT leads with a look at how drivers can expect to see more expensive tolls across the country as states try to deal with budget shortfalls caused by the decline in the housing and credit markets.

Clinton and her husband had long been urging Kennedy to stay neutral, and his endorsement is a clear blow to her campaign, particularly since it will come a day after President John F. Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy, endorsed Obama in a NYT op-ed piece. The Democratic Party icon apparently made up his mind to back Obama after he found out about his niece’s endorsement, and saw it as a key opportunity to add the Kennedy name to Obama’s campaign. For its part, Clinton’s campaign announced the endorsement of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the daughter of Robert Kennedy and a former Maryland lieutenant governor.

How big of an uphill battle will Obama face on Feb. 5? Well, one-quarter of the delegates will be awarded by New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Arkansas, which are states where Clinton has a marked advantage. She’s also leading in California, which is by far the biggest prize of the Feb. 5 madness. USAT fronts a look at the most populous state in the nation and writes that in the paper’s latest poll, Clinton leads Obama by 12 percentage points. So far, Obama has been able to raise excitement for his candidacy by reaching out to voters in speeches, but that strategy clearly can’t work in what is effectively a national campaign. Regardless, Obama’s campaign is optimistic that due to Democratic Party rules that award delegates proportionally, the senator could still win a big chunk of delegates in states where Clinton is likely to come out ahead.

All the campaigns are now engaged in this delicate dance as they try to figure out their strategies based on how they can get the most delegates out of the Feb. 5 contest, notes the NYT in an informative front-page analysis. This “lengthy hunt for delegates” is not only affecting the way campaigns are being waged but is also challenging the conventional wisdom of handicapping the contests. On the Democratic side, for example, it’s possible that the winner of the majority of states on Feb. 5 won’t get the most delegates. In a separate piece inside, the NYT notes that if the contest is still officially too close to call before the conventions, it could all come down to a select group of party insiders and leaders who are known as superdelegates. Regardless, the paper admits the scenario is highly unlikely.

Coming off a devastating defeat in South Carolina, and looking for a last-minute victory of her own before Tsunami Tuesday, Clinton is now calling attention to Tuesday’s vote in Florida. She has a wide lead there, but the Democratic candidates vowed not to campaign in Florida after it was penalized by the Democratic National Committee for moving its primary date earlier in the year. The WP describes “Clinton’s last-minute play for Florida” as an “audacious move” that could end up helping her, especially if, as many expect, the state’s delegates will ultimately be counted.

Now the Clinton campaign has to figure out how to best utilize the former president in the campaign. Kennedy’s endorsement was at least in part due to his anger at the former president over statements he made about Obama and what he saw as an attempt to inject the issue of race into the contest. The move seems to support the oft-repeated assertion that the former president might hurt Clinton’s candidacy, says the NYT. In a separate story inside, the NYT says Clinton’s advisers are increasingly concerned that her husband’s aggressive campaigning may have hurt her in South Carolina and insist he will be taking a more positive tone from now on, although some acknowledged it might be difficult to control the former president.

On the Republican side of the presidential contest, the campaigns are getting increasingly heated in Florida and the LAT notes that both Sen. John McCain and Mitt Romney are treating Tuesday’s primary “as a two-man fight.”  The NYT points out that McCain is starting to look like the establishment candidate, particularly after he won the endorsement of Florida’s popular governor over the weekend. But many Republicans, particularly in the party’s more conservative wing, still view McCain with suspicion. Meanwhile, the Post points out that Mike Huckabee’s campaign is moving to refashion the former governor as “the candidate of the South.”

The papers note that ethnic violence in Kenya continued to spread yesterday, and the LAT says that as many as 30 people were killed in the city of Naivasha, which had been spared much of the post-election chaos. The NYT highlights how 19 of the victims were killed when a mob set a house on fire and killed everyone inside, including 11 children.

All the papers report from last night’s Screen Actors Guild Awards, which took on a whole new level of importance now that the continuing writers’ strike is threatening awards-show season. In a normal year the SAG awards are “as anonymous … as ‘Cop No. 3’ in a summer blockbuster,” says the NYT, but the stars came out in full force yesterday for what might be the only chance for actors to walk the red carpet. The big winners of the night were The Sopranos and No Country for Old Men.