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Kennedy endorsements add to Obama's momentum

James Talmadge | 4/30/2009, 7:28 a.m.

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s quest for the Democratic presidential nomination received a Camelot coronation on Monday, as a triumvirate of Kennedys offered a stirring endorsement of the Illinois senator before a raucous student crowd at American University in Washington, D.C.

Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, was first on the Obama bandwagon with an op-ed published in the Sunday New York Times comparing the youth, vitality and vision of her father with the broad appeal of the Illinois lawmaker.

U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said to be frustrated at the Clinton campaign’s blistering attacks on his Senate colleague, quickly came off the fence to offer Obama his endorsement, which had been eagerly sought by all the hopefuls in the contest.

During the rally in the nation’s capital, U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, D-R.I., joined his Kennedy kin in giving a boost to the Obama campaign in the critical days leading up to next week’s Super Tuesday showdowns in 22 states across the country, including the delegate-rich battlegrounds of New York, California, Illinois and Massachusetts.

In her Times op-ed, the only surviving child of President Kennedy touched on Obama’s ability to inspire and unify the country in arguing that he should become the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer in November.

“Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things,” she wrote.

“In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible. We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Obama.”

The Bay State senator, responding indirectly to statements from the Clinton campaign that Obama isn’t experienced enough to lead the country, cited his brother’s successful assault on the party establishment as a model the electorate should embrace once again.

“There was another time, when another young candidate was running for president and challenging America to cross a new frontier,” said the senator. “He faced criticism from the preceding Democratic president who was widely respected in the party,” referring to Harry S. Truman.

“And John Kennedy replied, ‘The world is changing. The old ways will not do. It is time for a new generation of leadership,’” he continued. “So it is with Barack Obama.”

The liberal lion, with 42 years of service in the upper chamber, is expected to campaign heavily for Obama in the coming days, with a strong emphasis on Latino areas now leaning towards Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

The Kennedy name still resonates in Latino households grateful for Sen. Kennedy’s longstanding support of immigration reform and memories of Sen. Robert Kennedy’s close ties to César Chávez, an icon of the civil rights movement.

Obama, long and lean, repeatedly embraced the Bay State senator’s thickening torso during the American University rally as the crowd roared its approval.

“I was too young to remember John Kennedy and I was just a child when Robert Kennedy ran for president,” said Obama. “But in the stories I heard growing up, I saw how my grandparents and mother spoke about them and about that period in our nation’s life as a time of great hope and achievement.”

While offering his blessing to the 46-year-old senator, Sen. Kennedy refuted recent statements from both Hillary and Bill Clinton questioning Obama’s early opposition to the war in Iraq, saying he was against it from the start and challenging anyone “to deny that truth.”

For her part, Clinton issued a statement pointing out the presence of Kennedys in her own camp, citing the support of former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental activist from New York.