For Kennedys, Return to Indiana is Bittersweet

6 May


From the Boston Globe

By Brian C. Mooney, Globe Staff

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — There’s a strong nostalgic undercurrent to the Indiana battle that culminates Tuesday with the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama evoking the memory of the last great Democratic primary in the Hoosier State — the triumph of Robert F. Kennedy 40 years ago. Members of the famous political clan have been stumping for both candidates all over the state in the runup to the critical vote.

Kennedys supporting each candidate have followed in Bobby Kennedy’s footsteps by visiting the famous West Side Democratic and Civic Club, which was one of his memorable stops on Dyngus Day, the Monday after Easter, which is marked in many Polish-American communities by political events.

In 1968, Kennedy sang a Polish song and addressed a huge crowd at the club that spilled out into a neighborhood that was once almost entirely Polish but is now racially mixed.

This year, his daughter Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, visited the club on Dyngus Day with former president Bill Clinton and the Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea. Less than two weeks later, Kennedy’s widow, Ethel, and one of their sons, Max, stumped at the same club for Obama. Ethel Kennedy accompanied her husband on the campaign swing that year through South Bend, which also included a huge rally that closed off streets downtown.

Another son, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., has also been campaigning for Clinton, while his cousin, Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, has stumped for Obama. Their uncle, Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, is one of Obama’s most prominent supporters, and his wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, telephoned a gathering of Catholics for Obama last week in South Bend.

Robert Kennedy won the Indiana primary in May of that year, his first after a late entry into the nominating contest, defeating favorite-son Governor Roger Branigan, who was a stand-in for President Lyndon B. Johnson until he withdrew from the race before the Indiana vote, and then a proxy for Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey on primary day. Eugene McCarthy, like Kennedy, running on a platform opposing the Vietnam War, finished third. Kennedy was assassinated four weeks later in Los Angeles, on the night he won the California primary.

His Indiana campaign inspired a group of young Democratic activists in the largely Republican Hoosier State.

Julie Vuckovich, on leave from the staff of Senator Evan Bayh to coordinate Clinton’s campaign in the Second Congressional District, has a vivid memory of seeing Kennedy stop, shaking hands along Miami Street south of downtown South Bend. She said it inspired her to volunteer for his campaign.

“It was magical,” recalled Owen “Butch” Morgan, who as a college student watched the Kennedy motorcade make its way to the West Side Democratic club. “I couldn’t get in; it was packed,” said Morgan, now chairman of the St. Joseph County Democratic Party and a Clinton supporter in this year’s race.


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