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Sen. Kennedy Backs Obama for President

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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Welna
David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.