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Marathon 2008 Primary Season Makes History

For Democrats, the 2008 primary season has been the longest in recent memory, with no shortage of upsets, talk of momentum, and states defying parties to hold primaries earlier than ever. Three historians discuss the significance of 2008's lengthy primaries.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    With today's Kentucky and Oregon primaries and less than a handful more to go, some historical perspective.

    When dozens of states decided to move their primary dates to early in the year, who could have predicted the long, drawn-out nominating process that followed? What impact has the new calendar had on the candidates? And how might it affect them heading into the general election?

    Well, for that, and more, we turn to presidential historian Michael Beschloss; Richard Norton Smith, scholar in residence at George Mason University; and also joining us is Kathryn Pearson, she's professor of political science at the University of Minnesota.

    Thank you, all three.

    And before we turn to this election, the news today that Senator Edward Kennedy's diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. We don't know the prognosis in any detail. Of course, everyone is wishing him well.

    But what I want to ask the two of you, Michael and Richard, because you both know him and you've written about him, why do you think there's been such a huge outpouring of concern and emotion, Michael, from both Democrats and Republicans? What does Ted Kennedy represent? What is it about him?

  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian:

    You know, he has enormous friendships across the aisle in a way that, unfortunately, is largely of the past in Washington these days. You don't see that very often. He's been in the Senate for 46 years.

    You know, in the late 1950s, his brother, Jack, when he was still a senator, was assigned to a committee to select the great senators in American history and put them on a wall of the Capitol. I think, whatever your politics today, you would say that Ted Kennedy, if that were done today, would be on that wall.

    He once said, "I define liberalism in this country," and that's been pretty much true since his brother, Robert, was assassinated almost exactly 40 years ago next month, in 1968. This is a senator who, in certain ways, has had more influence on American history over more than four decades than some American presidents.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Richard Norton Smith, you sat down and talked with him not very long ago.

  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH, George Mason University:

    Yes, it was actually in January. It was a week before the Obama endorsement. And things were said that day that led me to believe to not be totally surprised when it came.

    And here's the poignancy of this lion of liberalism, this man who really, for 50 years, has represented the Great New Deal, Fair Deal, New Frontier tradition, in many ways handing the baton off to the man who he sees as his heir.

    But, you know, another thing, he really is a happy warrior. He loved the fray. He loved the battle.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    I want to put it in present sense. He's still with us.

  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH:

    Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, you know, I'll give you a personal recollection of a side of him that not many people saw. Seven years ago, at the Kennedy Library, President Ford received the Profiles in Courage Award for the Nixon pardon.

    And Senator Kennedy hosted, got up there and said, "You know, I was wrong. President Ford was right." But it was behind the scenes. Seeing the interaction between these two and everyone else is extraordinary.

    You know, he may have lots of adversaries in the Senate and ideological opponents, but he doesn't have a single enemy.