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Kennedy wounded in victory

It wasn't supposed to be this way for Tim "Landslide" Kennedy.
The rookie Democratic senator was supposed to be reveling in the security of a fairly safe district.
He was counting on a campaign treasury brimming with close to half a million dollars to insulate him from challenge.
And the plan was to show the world that the guy from South Buffalo could survive in a new and racially diverse district.
Instead, Kennedy spent most of last week scraping and clawing for every vote after Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant charged out of nowhere to almost knock him off. Late last week the results were not yet official and the Grant forces were still optimistic. The Kennedy camp seemed to be breathing easier as it appeared the senator would hang on - by the slimmest of margins.
It's a new world for Landslide Kennedy.
Albany sources indicate his Democratic colleagues now express serious concern about his future viability. They like stability in their caucus.
And Kennedy now finds himself plunged into eternal fund-raising mode. He learned on Sept. 13 that spending around $400,000 on a Senate primary can translate into a lead of less than 300 votes.
And, oh yes. Grant spent about $20,000.
Kennedy would not speak to the Politics Column about the election. The column wanted to ask him what happened. And it would have proven most enlightening to hear his version.
His spokesman (yes - state senators have spokesmen) said he was "spending time with the family" after the campaign.
But others are talking. One veteran Buffalo pol observed Kennedy forces failed to motivate the South Buffalo base, while making mistakes in approaching the African-American portion of the district.
"You can't run an air war in the African-American community," he observed. "If you go out and meet with the African-American community, they are receptive."
We're sure the senator made the rounds among black voters. And we're sure he touched base in friendly turf like South Buffalo and Lackawanna.
But he still came frightfully close to losing (and who knows what official results will bring?) in a district that census figures peg at 56 percent white and 32 percent black.
Grant deserves credit in this scenario, too. She realized that the African-American vote carries special clout in a Democratic primary, and organized an old-fashioned get-out-the-vote effort. She appealed to churches and civic groups without waging a racial campaign.
But that only adds to the perception that Kennedy must now overcome.
And the fallout does not affect only him. The senator hails from the political camp of Congressman Brian Higgins. His close call means the Higgins political organization narrowly dodged another blow after its candidate for a special Assembly election - Chris Fahey - lost to Mickey Kearns earlier this year.
Now that Kennedy's vulnerability was exposed in a race in which he possessed all the financial, organizational and ethnic advantages, there must be concern these days in Higgins Land, too.
Kennedy has demonstrated innate political talent in his still-young career. He sidled next to Republican County Executive Chris Collins while in the County Legislature in a political survival exercise - though that may have come back to haunt him in a Democratic primary.
Then he knocked off veteran Sen. Bill Stachowski in 2010, was confident enough to vote for same-sex marriage in 2011 (anathema to the Conservative Party) and then not seek the often crucial minor line in 2012.
But now anyone with an ounce of politics will be gunning for Kennedy. They will see that even backed by piles of campaign money, a hard-working opponent like Grant can pose a serious challenge with no money.
That's why Kennedy must work extra hard to compile an attractive legislative record, while spending the same amount of time replenishing a war chest that must prove even heftier this time around.
Sometimes politics is a tough biz. Just ask Landslide Kennedy.