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After all these years, barely half of Americans like Ted Kennedy

August 11, 2009 |  3:26 pm

Democrats Barack Obama and Ted Kennedy during the party's 2007 primary campaign

Ted Kennedy would seem to have everything going for him -- money, famous family name, power, sympathy. Did we mention money?

An admired wealthy family; brother and political heir to two popular martyrs; long a liberal icon hailed by both sides for his Senate work on education and healthcare; now in his eighth term, making him the third-longest-serving senator in American history; dying of brain cancer.

And yet a new CNN/Opinion Research poll of 1,136 Americans (with an oversampling of blacks) just released reveals that the barest majority of fellow citizens have a favorable opinion of the senior Massachusetts senator -- 51%.

That's down two points from last February and down five points from last August.

His unfavorable percentage is holding steady right at 35-36%. Three percent claim to have never heard of the guy. And more than one in ten (11%, up from 7% in Feb.) say they don't even have an opinion about the man who once carried the glamorous mantle of his slain brothers' Camelot days and even tried for the presidency himself unsuccessfully.

Relatively surprising numbers for a famous-named fixture in American politics for more than four decades. Is it the buried accumulation of feelings over his long-ago scandals -- the college cheating, the divorce, the Mary Jo Kopechne death? Or just the declining 21st century relevance of a one-time political powerhouse?

The 77-year-old Kennedy makes public appearances rarely now, and attends the Senate infrequently. He's been seen riding a small cart from his Hyannis home down to the ocean and sitting in the sea air with a companion.

But judging from his dramatic departure from a sickbed and appearance at last summer's Democratic National Convention in Denver, the affection of party loyalists remains strong. Not to mention his eagerly-sought endorsement of Obama over Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary season.

With his niece Caroline having withdrawn/been bumped from the New York Senate vacancy, attention to the once-royal American political family now sort of shifts to Illinois. There, Chris Kennedy, son of Robert, runs one of the family's many property holdings, Chicago's massive Merchandise Mart.

That Kennedy has said he might like to enter the Senate in next year's special race to fill the Barack Obama/Roland Burris seat.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Associated Press