Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy endorsed Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in his bid for president Monday — despite entreaties from Obama’s chief rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, to stay politically neutral in the race.
On PBS’s Tavis Smiley, Kennedy said he had made the decision based on “who could galvanize this country, galvanize the Democratic party.”
Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, daughter of former president John F. Kennedy, joined Sen. Kennedy at a crowded Washington, D.C. rally to announce the endorsement. Schlossberg also praised Obama Sunday in a New York Times opinion-editorial.
“With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion,” Sen. Kennedy said of his decision to support Obama. “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.”
“Every time I’ve been asked over the past year who I would support in the Democratic primary, my answer has always been the same: I’ll support the candidate who inspires me, who inspires all of us,” said Kennedy, who invoked the memory of his brother, the slain former President Kennedy.
Kennedy’s endorsement comes on the heels of the senator’s reported anger over comments former President Bill Clinton made about Obama on the campaign trail. Sen. Kennedy and former President Clinton had a heated telephone conversation earlier this month “over what Mr. Kennedy considered misleading statements by Mr. Clinton about Mr. Obama, as well as his injection of race into the campaign,” the New York Times reported.
The Kennedy endorsements pit “leading members of the nation’s most prominent Democratic families against one another,” according to the Times. Kennedy’s endorsement also comes as a blow to former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who won Sen. Kennedy’s support in 2004 when he ran with Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry.
Sen. Kennedy has worked very closely with both Sen. Clinton and her husband in the past, but aides say he was inspired by Obama’s “seeming ability to inspire political interest in a new generation,” and was also prompted by Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg’s involvement.
“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. 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,” Schlossberg wrote. “We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Obama.”
Obama graciously accepted the Kennedys’ support and looked to align himself with the energetic spirit that embodied former president John F. Kennedy.