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Big Crowd For Obama In District

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Attendees at the Kennedy Endorsement of Barack Obama at American University in Washington, D.C. Monday are inspired by the democratic candidate's momentum. Video: Akira Hakuta/washingtonpost.comEditor: Jacqueline Refo/washingtonpost.com

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By Nikita Stewart and David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama rode the winds of his South Carolina victory into the District yesterday, appearing before an overflow crowd of thousands at American University and picking up the coveted endorsement of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

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The rally, which drew nearly 7,000 people, marked the first major campaign event in the region leading up to the Feb. 12 primaries in the District, Virginia and Maryland. In the hotly contested race, the Potomac primary could play a key role with 239 Democratic delegates up for grabs.

At the university's Bender Arena, Obama was joined onstage by Kennedy (D-Mass.), his son Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) and his niece Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President John F. Kennedy.

"Let there be no doubt: We are all committed to seeing a Democratic president in 2008, but I believe there is one candidate who has extraordinary gifts of leadership," Edward Kennedy said in a speech with lofty comparisons of Obama to his brother and pointed responses to criticism of the Illinois senator. "I am proud to stand here today and offer my help, my voice, my energy and my commitment to make Barack Obama the next president of the United States."

Obama told supporters they could help write "the next great American story."

"Someday we can tell our children that this was the time when we healed our nation," he said to applause and screams.

The university said the crowds spilled over to several places on the campus, including a post-rally event outdoors at which Obama and Edward Kennedy made an appearance.

Some professors suspended classes, opting to turn on televisions so students could watch the event, a university spokeswoman said.

Other students simply ditched classes, and workers took the day off and brought their children along. Retirees and others braved the January cold as they lined up waiting for the arena's doors to open. Students began queuing up as early as 5 a.m. for the rally, which started shortly after noon, the school reported.

The crowd inside the arena represented a broad swath of races, ages and religions. Eager 17-year-olds talked about their plans to vote for Obama in the primary -- the law permits it in Maryland and Virginia as long as they are 18 by November. And some in their 60s recalled the inspiration they drew from another Kennedy in their youth.

For decades, candidates have strived for comparisons to John F. Kennedy, but yesterday his relatives bestowed that legacy to the 46-year-old Obama.

Edward Kennedy rebutted some of the criticism of Obama by his main rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and her husband, former president Bill Clinton -- that he lacks the experience to be president and that he has not been consistent in his opposition to the war in Iraq.


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