Sen. Kennedy Backs Obama for President

Sen. Barack Obama's presidential bid picked up a key endorsement Monday from Sen. Edward Kennedy — along with some other Kennedys. Sen. Kennedy, a major Democratic player for decades, had been courted by the Clintons, who requested that he remain neutral.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

On the presidential campaign trail, the competition is heating up among candidates in both parties. Democrats are battling over some big endorsements, and Republicans are placing big bets on Florida. That state's voters go to the polls tomorrow. More on Florida in a few minutes, but first, we go to the nation's capital, where Barack Obama collected the endorsements of three prominent members of the Kennedy family. It was a moment Hillary Clinton fought hard to prevent, and it took place during a noisy rally at American University.

NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: Caroline Kennedy, who's the sole survivor of President John F. Kennedy's immediate family, told a mostly young crowd here she sensed a profound longing for the kind of inspiration and hope people got from her father.

(Soundbite of political speech)

Ms. CAROLINE KENNEDY (Former President John F. Kennedy's Daughter): I'm happy that my three children are here with me because they were the first people who made me realize that Barack Obama is the president we need.

WELNA: That endorsement was echoed by her cousin, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, and by her uncle, Edward Kennedy, who became a senator when Obama was not yet 2 years old.

(Soundbite of political speech)

Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): I'm proud to stand with him here today and offer my help, offer my voice, offer my energy, my commitment to make Barack Obama the next president of the United States.

(Soundbite of cheering)

WELNA: As Obama sat with the Kennedys, basking in their praise, Senator Kennedy, without naming the former president, assailed Bill Clinton's questioning of Obama's record on the Iraq War. It's reported to be one reason why Kennedy decided not to remain neutral in this race.

(Soundbite of political speech)

Sen. KENNEDY: We know the true record of Barack Obama. There is the courage when so many others were silent or simply went along. From the beginning, he opposed the war in Iraq.

WELNA: To which Kennedy pointedly added…

(Soundbite of political speech)

Sen. KENNEDY: And let no one deny that truth.

WELNA: When he spoke, Obama pointedly compared Kennedy to certain politicians he did not name, though it seemed clear he was alluding to the Clintons.

(Soundbite of political speech)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): Ted Kennedy stands apart from the prevailing wisdom in Washington that has reduced politics to a game of tactics and transactions in which no principle is beyond sacrifice. And his public life is a testimony to what can be achieved when you focus on lifting the country up rather than tearing political opponents down.

WELNA: Obama then said he would offer the kind of leadership to be found in the dreams of John and Robert Kennedy and in their sense of common purpose.

(Soundbite of political speech)

Sen. OBAMA: So make no mistake. The choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders. It is not about rich versus poor, young versus old, and it is certainly not about black versus white. It is about…

(Soundbite of cheering)

Sen. OBAMA: …it is about the past versus the future.

(Soundbite of cheering)

WELNA: It was enough to lure at least one independent - 48-year-old Marcy Franz(ph) - into Obama's camp.

Ms. MARCY FRANZ (Independent Voter): I really would love to see if he won. You know, that would be great because it's such a different, outside the box, not politics as usual thing. I remember, like a lot of people in my generation, where I was when Kennedy was shot and that family has - it was a big part of all of our dreams about America.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

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Sen. Kennedy Endorses Obama

Edward Kennedy endorses Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. i i

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama hugs Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts after he and Caroline Kennedy endorsed the candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in Washington, D.C., on Monday. Emmanuel Dunan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Emmanuel Dunan/AFP/Getty Images
Edward Kennedy endorses Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama hugs Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts after he and Caroline Kennedy endorsed the candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in Washington, D.C., on Monday.

Emmanuel Dunan/AFP/Getty Images

Sen. Edward Kennedy on Monday endorsed Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, saying the Illinois senator is a man with both leadership and character.

During a rally at American University in Washington, the veteran Massachusetts senator and youngest brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy said Obama generates hope that the nation's greatest days are ahead.

"With Barack Obama we will close the book on the old politics of race against race, gender against gender, ethnic group against ethnic group, and straight against gay," Kennedy said.

The Democratic Party stalwart, who has been in the Senate since 1962, is expected to actively campaign for Obama in the days leading up to the "Super Tuesday" primaries on Feb. 5.

Kennedy's son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) has also endorsed Obama, as did niece Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the former president.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times on Sunday, Caroline Kennedy said that Obama may inspire people the way her father did. She introduced her uncle to an enthusiastic crowd at American University on Monday, reiterating her support for Obama.

The Kennedy family is not united behind Obama, however.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and former Maryland lieutenant governor, threw her support behind New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama's main rival for the Democratic nomination.

"I respect Caroline and Teddy's decision, but I have made a different choice," Kennedy Townsend said.

Still Anyone's Game

The Democratic nomination is still up for grabs, even though Obama soundly beat Clinton and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards in South Carolina's Democratic primary on Saturday.

The candidates are now concentrating their efforts on the states that vote Feb. 5, though Clinton has promised to travel to Florida on Tuesday night after that state's primary.

The Democratic National Committee stripped Florida of its delegates to the party's nominating convention because the state moved its primaries up to Jan. 29.

Author Points to Obama's 'Vision'

Obama gained another notable endorsement from Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison.

Morrison said she is inspired by Obama and prefers his "vision" over rival Sen. Clinton's experience.

It was Morrison who famously called former President Bill Clinton "the first black president" in a 1998 magazine column.

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