Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., right, and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., visit an outside overflow crowd on the campus of American University in Washington on Monday.
WASHINGTON - Sen. Edward Kennedy implored Americans yesterday "to turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion," as he placed the aura of the most prominent Democratic family around Sen. Barack Obama's candidacy.
At a rally at American University, as two generations of Kennedys surrounded Mr. Obama on stage, and Caroline Kennedy and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D., R.I.) offered their own endorsements, Senator Kennedy offered a fierce rebuttal to questions that Mr. Obama's rivals have raised about his experience and readiness for the job.
Senator Kennedy plans to campaign aggressively this week for Mr. Obama in Arizona, California, and New Mexico, hoping to influence voters torn between Mr. Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton.
As Mr. Kennedy's speech was shown on news channels, Mrs. Clinton received a raucous reception at a rally in Massachusetts. She made no reference to being overlooked by Mr. Kennedy and in a call with reporters, she said, "We're all proud of the people we have endorsing us."
The political blessing from Mr. Kennedy, though, was far from a routine endorsement.
Controversial among Republicans, he is nonetheless influential among many Democrats and could be particularly helpful in courting older voters, union members, and Latinos.
All candidates, including Mrs. Clinton, vigorously pursued his endorsement because of the symbolism and lore it represents.
Mr. Kennedy praised John Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, and Mrs. Clinton as friends but presented his endorsement in a deeply personal way. Seldom does he mention his brothers, both of whom were assassinated, in public appearances. But he made repeated references to them yesterday.
Mr. Obama said he was humbled by the comparisons.
"I was too young to remember John Kennedy and I was just a child when Robert Kennedy ran for president," Mr. Obama, 46, said. "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."
In a 20-minute address, Edward Kennedy hailed Mr. Obama's ability to transcend racial divisions. Mr. Kennedy, who associates said is furious at the tone of the Democratic campaign, including the words and actions of former President Bill Clinton, said Mr. Obama would usher in a new era of politics.
Mr. Obama also was endorsed by author Toni Morrison, who once described Bill Clinton as America's first black president. Ms. Morrison praised Mrs. Clinton but said she was supporting Mr. Obama because of his "wisdom."
With a 22-state campaign battleground over the next week for the Democratic candidates, Mrs. Clinton focused criticism on President Bush's handling of the economy and foreign affairs as she addressed large crowds in Connecticut and Massachusetts. She did not mention the names of Mr. Obama or Mr. Edwards.