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The political impact of Kennedy's seizure: Obama, Clinton and McCain

May 17, 2008 |  6:40 pm

As most probably know by now, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy was rushed to the hospital earlier today after suffering what was described as a seizure.

Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy who has endorsed Illinois Senator Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination was stricken by a seizure May 17, 2008 and hospitalized

Recent tabloid photos of the 76-year-old well-respected, liberal lion showed him to be grossly overweight, so that can't help his condition as doctors diagnose what's wrong.

But The Ticket isn't a medical blog. It's a politics blog. So what's the political effect? First, his illness and a presumed recovery will keep Kennedy sidelined from the campaign trail on Obama's behalf, although other than publicity that hasn't seemed to prove all that helpful anyway.

Despite the slim Democratic majority in the Senate, probably not much effect there. Even if a replacement senator had to be named by the governor, he's a Democrat too. So the party seat balance won't change.

Inside the Senate, Kennedy is well-respected as a hardworking, effective legislator, who can deal with all sides, as he did, for instance, with President Bush on compromise education legislation.

Outside the Senate, the influence of the veteran senator, who overcame the Chappaquiddick scandal, seems to have waned as a vote generator. Despite lingering affection for his famous Democratic family name and....

...much-ballyhooed endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama this winter, Kennedy (and his state's other Democratic senator, John Kerry)  were unable to deliver Massachusetts to their candidate in primary balloting.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton captured the state's popular vote rather handily, another example of what she claims is her big-state success among party voters that would make her more electable than Obama in November.

Despite Kennedy's oft-cited influence among Latino voters and his well-publicized campaigning among them in California, Obama also lost the popular vote there, again to Clinton.

But because of the arcane Democratic delegate allocation process, Obama still picked up 166 of the state's 370 delegates with Clinton capturing 204. Under the Republicans' winner-take-all delegate selection process, as Clinton has so frequently and uselessly pointed out, she would have wrapped up her party's nomination with that lopsided win over Obama in West Virginia the other day.

(Also, under the Republican Party's traditional system of primogeniture, she would probably have inherited the presidential nomination as next most senior in line, much as her team apparently thought she would among Democrats before the upstart Illinois freshman launched his unexpected grassfire rebellion in the winter of 2007.)

"The Democrats have developed a delegate allocation system that is so fair, it's unfair," says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

In politics, though, what's often most important is what is not said.

We tip our hat to colleague Dan Morain for underlining something very revealing in the statements of sympathy issued today by all three major presidential candidates:

Obama, who had Kennedy's endorsement; even Republican Sen. John McCain, who's now the presumptive nominee and leader of the opposite party but has worked across the aisle with Kennedy for years in the Senate and doesn't mind underlining that; and then Clinton, who has worked with Kennedy too, but lost the anticipated Kennedy endorsement in what must have been a bitter disappointment to herself and her husband.

See if you notice anything in the three senators' statements, printed here in their entirety. And let us know in the Comments section below what you detect.

Sen. Obama:

"I know a lot of you are interested in the situation with Sen. Kennedy. I have been in contact with the family. Obviously they are in oIllinois Senator Barack Obama and Massachusettes Senator Edward Kennedy, who endorsed Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, sit together at the last State of the Union Address by President George W. Bushur thoughts and prayers. They, I am sure, will be releasing some sort of statement when they have a better assessment of what the situation is.

"You know, as I have said many times before, Ted Kennedy is a giant in American political history. He has done more for the healthcare of others than just about anybody in history and so we are going to be rooting for him and I insist on being optimistic about how it's going to turn out."

Sen. McCain:

"I was very sorry to hear that Sen. Kennedy has taken ill, aArizona Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee, and his Senate colleague, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, who has endorsed Illinois Senator Barack Obama for the Democratic Party's presidential nominationnd like millions of Americans, Cindy and I anxiously await word of his condition.

"Sen. Kennedy's role in the U.S. Senate cannot be overstated. He is a legendary lawmaker, and I have the highest respect for him. When we have worked together, he has been a skillful, fair and generous partner. I consider it a great privilege to call him my friend.

"Cindy and I are praying for our friend, his wife, Vicki, and the Kennedy family."

Sen. Clinton:Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy and New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who was not endorsed by Kennedy for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination

“My thoughts and prayers are with Sen. Ted Kennedy and his family today.  We all wish him well and a quick recovery.”

-- Andrew Malcolm

Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images/AP