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Drawing on Deep Ties, Kennedy Reaches Out to Hispanics

By Shailagh Murray
When Sen. Edward M. Kennedy hits the campaign trail for Sen. Barack Obama Thursday and Friday, his focus will be Hispanics, a voter group that doesn't know Obama well, but that has deep ties to Kennedy, who for 45 years has championed immigration rights.

Kennedy's public schedule for Thursday and Friday lists community gatherings in New Mexico and California. Also on the agenda: Appearances on Spanish-language radio programs, interviews with Spanish-language newspapers, and phone calls to uncommitted local Hispanic leaders.

Tomorrow morning, Kennedy will appear on "Piolin por la "Mañana," the top-rated show in Los Angeles, whose host, Eddie "Piolin" Sotelo, entered the United States illegally 20 years ago. Last June, Sotelo led a cross-country caravan to deliver over 1 million letters from legal U.S. residents in support of immigration reform. Kennedy was one of the lawmakers waiting to greet Sotelo when he arrived in Washington.

Breaking through with Hispanic voters is one of the Obama campaign's most urgent challenges, given the array of states that will vote Feb. 5 with large Hispanic populations, and the Clintons' longstanding ties with many Hispanic leaders. But few national lawmakers have deeper roots in the community than Kennedy.

It is a relationship that dates back to the early 1960s, when President Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy, the attorney general, sought to end the migrant worker program brought to light by the Edward R. Murrow documentary, "Harvest of Shame." In 1963, JFK called on Congress to overhaul immigration law, the same year his brother Ted, then a freshman, won a seat on the Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee. In 1965, the Massachusetts senator helped to secure passage of a landmark immigration bill that abolished the national-origin quota system, which had been in place since 1924, and heavily favored immigrants of European descent.

Through his long career, Kennedy has remained a champion of immigration rights. But his closest partner in recent years has been a Republican: Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 30, 2008; 5:30 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama  
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