That politicians, both from out of state and within, spent the finals days before today’s presidential primary touting their endorsements of Senator Barack Obama in a state once considered solidly supportive of Senator Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 is a testament to Connecticut’s new — and nearly unprecedented — status as a toss-up.
And the fact that many of those endorsements have come so recently — as most of the other Democratic contenders have dropped out of the race — is evidence of the influence momentum can have on a race.
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In interviews with the News, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry ’66 and New Haven-area Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro felt the momentum, at least.
But Kerry went even further. Turning one of Clinton’s primary message points on its head, Kerry contrasted Obama’s readiness now to that of former President Bill Clinton’s LAW ’73 when he entered the White House in 1992.
“Bill Clinton put too many people from his campaign into the White House,” Kerry said in the interview, following a speech to local canvassers in New Haven on Sunday. “Obama is going to bring more experience with him to the White House. He knows Washington — Bill didn’t.”
DeLauro, meanwhile, focused on the more intangible quality of inspiration.
“People are looking for a new vision,” said New Haven-area Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who announced her endorsement of Obama on Saturday morning. “Barack Obama, he’s restored a faith in people. You’re looking at record numbers of people coming out.”
The variety of people backing Obama inspires her, DeLauro said. The people who came to hear her announce her support Saturday included “high-school students, Wesleyan students, labor, business and church people,” the New Haven native said.
DeLauro said that after vigorously supporting home-state candidate Sen. Christopher Dodd — for whom she served as chief of staff before entering Congress — she had considered sitting out the rest of the primary season and waiting for a nominee following Dodd’s departure from the race last month. But ultimately, DeLauro said, she could not resist weighing in on a historic presidential election.
“John F. Kennedy was instrumental in my being involved in public service,” she said, recalling that she stayed up all night the night of Kennedy’s election, waiting for returns. “Barack’s an inspiration for a new generation.”
While introducing Obama at the rally Monday, DeLauro, her face shining with unrestrained ebullience, pumped her fists in the air and told the audience that Obama’s candidacy was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity she could not afford to let pass.
“There is a surge of optimism that is sweeping the country,” she said.
About a different “surge” — that of addition U.S. troops into Iraq last winter — DeLauro is less enthusiastic. The war was a “terrible mistake” that Obama — who opposed the war at the time of the invasion in 2003 — would not have made, she said during the interview.
“I had the same information other people had, and I voted against [invading Iraq],” she said. “I applaud [Obama’s] view.”
Also applauding that view was Kerry. The former two-time president of the Yale Political Union, who was in New Haven stumping for Obama on Sunday, has sought in his appearances on Obama’s behalf to assuage some voters’ concerns that the Illinois senator, whose service in national government is limited to four years in the U.S. Senate, is not prepared to lead the nation in a time of war.
He noted that Obama has good working relationships with other old Washington hands, including former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, an adviser to the campaign, and fellow Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, who has endorsed Obama and campaigned with him in recent days.
Fears that Obama’s desire to find common ground will lead him to compromise are unfounded, Kerry said in the interview.
“He’s not going to compromise on fundamental issues,” Kerry explained, “and with Obama at the top, we can win more Senate seats.”
Added DeLauro, “People who haven’t believed in the process now believe a president can be relevant in their lives.”