Obama: Honored To Call Teddy A Friend

President Obama says Sen. Ted Kennedy touched the lives of many people. Even though the two didn't know each other for very long, Obama says he was honored to call him a friend. Kennedy's endorsement of Obama was very important in the race for the White House.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

A few minutes ago, President Obama stepped before the cameras and microphones to remember his friend and fellow Democrat, Senator Edward Kennedy.

President BARACK OBAMA: Over the past several years, I've had the honor to call Teddy a colleague, a counselor and a friend. And even though we have known this day was coming for some time now, we awaited it with no small amount of dread.

INSKEEP: President Obama, speaking of his friend Ted Kennedy, who died overnight after battling brain cancer.

The president spoke of many laws that Kennedy pushed through Congress over the years, laws that touched many lives.

Pres. OBAMA: In seniors who know new dignity, in families that know new opportunity, in children who know education's promise, and in all who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just - including myself.

INSKEEP: Senator Ted Kennedy never reached the White House himself, but was a key adviser or antagonist to many presidents who were there. And we're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea who has covered a couple of those presidents.

Good morning, Don.

DON GONYEA: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How would you describe the relationship between Edward Kennedy and President Obama?

GONYEA: It just seemed a very warm, very genuine, even affectionate relationship; one of deep, deep, mutual admiration. Made it all the more interesting by the fact that they only knew one another a relatively, you know, short, short period of time.

President Obama really burst on the scene, you know, just, you know, 2004 or so as a national figure. And in that amount of time, these two men developed deep respect and a very close friendship, it seems.

INSKEEP: Well, what happened during the presidential campaign in 2008, which you covered, when Senator Ted Kennedy, who had been seen in some sense as an ally of the Clintons, suddenly decided, or gradually decided to endorse Barack Obama?

GONYEA: He had been very close to the Clintons for many years, fought many battles with them. Hillary Clinton, then as a senator, was a colleague in the Senate. And there were some expectation that he would be more likely to endorse Senator Clinton in the presidential campaign.

But it was the end of January and, first, Caroline Kennedy endorsed president or then-senator, candidate Obama. Then came Senator Kennedy's endorsement.

INSKEEP: How did that endorsement change the campaign?

GONYEA: It was a vote of credibility for this still young candidate. He had won Iowa. He had lost New Hampshire. He had won South Carolina. And I had to tell you, the moments - on the eve of Super Tuesday, which was in the first week of February of 2008, Senator Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy went on the road and did a series of events.

It was one day on the day before Super Tuesday voting. We did the Meadowlands, we did Hartford, Connecticut, ending with a midnight rally in Boston. And again, this was before we knew that Senator Kennedy was ill. And he would do this thing where Caroline would introduce him to thunderous applause.

He would stand at the podium, wait for it to die down, which took forever.

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

GONYEA: As soon as it died down, he'd lean into the microphone and say, are you glad to see me? I'm not even going to try to imitate how he did that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: And then applause would just go through the roof. It would be 10 times bigger. And it was bombast, yes. It was joyful bombast. It was Ted Kennedy being Ted Kennedy. But it was also Ted Kennedy playing Ted Kennedy.

Barack Obama would sit on the stage behind him and just grin like you never saw him grin, when he was receiving any endorsement from anybody else.

INSKEEP: Just in a few seconds, Don, you also covered President Bush. And even though Bush was in a different party with very different politics, he also had a relationship with Senator Kennedy.

GONYEA: And he spoke very highly. And he respected Senator Kennedy. And they did work together. And he issued a very heartfelt statement today.

INSKEEP: John - Don, thanks very much.

NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea.

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