COLLEGE PARK, Md. — When I saw Barack Obama two weeks ago in California, the Kennedy comparisons were flying. Ted Kennedy compared Obama to both of his brothers, Obame name-dropped the Democratic royalty every chance he got, and warm-up speakers compared him to an RFK who wouldn’t get assassinated. (They used more gentle terms.)
But after he lost California and Massachusetts — the two places Ted Kennedy’s support was supposed to help most — the Kennedy mentions have dropped precipitously. The only time a Kennedy came up at today’s rally was when Obama trotted out his well-worn Kennedy allusion, “[JFK] said we can never negotiate out of fear but we can never fear to negotiate.” Then he kept going for a few seconds, only to cut himself off in a rare sign of ADD, “Strong countries and strong presidents — ”
Obama had spotted Maryland’s varsity women’s basketball team, and he was determined to give them a shout-out, even if it meant breaking off from the almighty JFK. “Is that the basketball team on the way out?” he said. “What’s up girls? How you all doing, ladies? We love you!” After finding out they’re 25-2 on the year, he said, “You all are going to the finals. … If I had brought my sneakers I’d suit up … I still got game.” Then he picked up on his JFK thread, almost out of obligation.
It seems Obama has moved beyond trying to be the next Kennedy. Now he’s all about electability. First, Obama tackled Hillary Clinton’s claim that she’s the electable one. “Lately Sen. Clinton says, well, you better elect me because I’ve been around a long time so I can go after the Republicans. I’m tough.” he said. Then he pivoted, “Let me tell you something, I may be skinny, but I’m tough, too.” As canned as it was, the crowd liked that one.
With Clinton out of the way, he turned his attention across the aisle. “I’m looking forward to mixing it up with John McCain,” he said before paying tribute to McCain’s service and detailing McCain’s conservative positions on taxes and Iraq. “I am happy to have an argument with the Republicans. Not only that, I think I can get some Republican votes.” Cue the various token Republicans in the crowd, who started wildly pointing at themselves. Obama spotted one, called him out, and the entire crowd went nuts. “They call ‘em Obamacans,” he said.
But Obama never mentioned that the polls show he leads in hypothetical match-ups . He had a natural opportunity to do a little bragging about his poll numbers in a state that already likes him , but he shied away. That timidness is not going to work in states like Ohio and Texas, where he’s going to have to dig a little deeper to fend off Hillary Clinton.
Somebody needs to tell him he has to start making his electability more explicit. Maybe Ted Kennedy’s the best guy to do it.