Sunday, February 3, 2008

Obama Picks Up Another Kennedy Endorsement

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife, Maria Shriver, endorsed Barack Obama Sunday, just days after he backed Republican John McCain.

"You know, if Barack Obama was a state, he'd be California," Shriver said at a campus rally. "I mean, think about it: diverse, open, smart, independent, bucks tradition, innovative, inspiring, dreamer, leader!"

"He is about empowering women, African-Americans, Latinos, older people, young people," Shriver enthused. "He's about empowering all of us."

Shriver is hardly in need of empowerment. A niece of JFK, Bobby Kennedy and Teddy Kennedy, she is the daughter of Sargent Shriver, who managed Merchandise Mart in Chicago for the Kennedys before marrying into the clan. JFK appointed his brother-in-law the first director of the Peace Corps, and Shriver later served Presidents Johnson and Nixon as Ambassador to France. After leaving the embassy, he ran for Vice President under George McGovern.

If the governor's wife shares Obama's antiwar sentiment, she comes by it honestly. Sargent Shriver opposed America's entry into WWII, helped found the America First Committee at Yale, and was a member until it was disbanded shortly after Pearl Harbor.

Maria Shriver was on the fast track at NBC News until she resigned in 2003 to be a full-time mom and First Lady of California.

Her endorsement appears to complete a unanimous Kennedy shift to Obama. No Kennedy has won a national election in nearly half a century, but they have retained enough heft to play kingmakers - and spoilers. In 1980, Teddy Kennedy's primary challenge to incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter weakened him before the showdown with eventual winner Ronald Reagan, and in 2004, his support was decisive in John Kerry's campaign for the Democratic nomination.

Despite the themes of redemption and empowerment, the Obama rally was awash in tycoons and celebrities, including Shriver's cousin Caroline Kennedy, singer Stevie Wonder and Oprah Winfrey.

Shriver's endorsement comes just two days before Super Tuesday, when California and 20 other US states will hold primaries. California is one of the most delegate-rich contests, and it is "in play," unlike Illinois and New York, where Obama and Clinton are expected to win their own states handily.

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