Obama Ready on 'Day One,' Kennedy Says

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/
By Anne E. Kornblut and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy delivered a highly prized endorsement for Sen. Barack Obama yesterday as well as a pointed rebuttal to the main lines of attack used against him by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband, Bill Clinton.

In a clear reference to the criticism repeated by the Democratic senator from New York and the former president that Obama (D-Ill.) does not have the experience for the White House, Kennedy -- borrowing one of the Clintons' favorite phrases -- said Obama is "ready to be president on Day One."

He also rebutted their contention that Obama has been inconsistent in his opposition to the war in Iraq and said Obama represents a new era and a rejection of "old politics."

"From the beginning, he opposed the war in Iraq. And let no one deny that truth,'' Kennedy (D-Mass.) said.

Kennedy praised Hillary Clinton and the third candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, former senator John Edwards of North Carolina, describing them as "friends" and declaring he would support the party's nominee.

But he was backing the candidate, who, he said, "has extraordinary gifts of leadership and character, matched to the extraordinary demands of this moment in history."

The Kennedy endorsement gave a fresh boost to Obama as the campaign entered its most competitive phase, with primaries in 22 states up for grabs on Super Tuesday next week. It also overshadowed the arrest in Chicago of Tony Rezko, a major contributor to Obama over the years, on charges that he ran a major kickback scheme.

Rezko, who is accused of a bond violation, was arrested by federal agents yesterday morning at his Wilmette, Ill., home. The Chicago Tribune reported that federal investigators had become concerned in recent weeks about the movement of some of his finances. The Clinton campaign has sought to make an issue of the relationship between Obama and Rezko, and Hillary Clinton referred to him in a debate last week as a slumlord.

Kennedy's endorsement dismayed and angered many Clinton supporters, who had hoped he would remain neutral. Adding to the awkwardness, Clinton appeared yesterday in Massachusetts, where the political establishment is split between the former first lady and Obama. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino is a Clinton supporter, along with two popular members of Congress, Reps. Jim McGovern and Barney Frank. Gov. Deval L. Patrick, and now both U.S. senators, are supporters of Obama.

Clinton also campaigned in Connecticut, where Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I) has endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D) has remained neutral after dropping out of the race.

The endorsement seemed to underscore the tensions the presidential campaign has caused in the Democratic Party establishment, especially in the Senate, where 11 members publicly back Clinton, and eight now support Obama.

That tension was on display late yesterday afternoon, when Obama and Clinton returned to the Senate and a pair of votes brought them together in rare proximity on the floor. Obama glided from desk to desk and was greeted by his colleagues like a returning prizefighter. Standing at the back of the chamber, he joked with Sens. James Webb (Va.) and Jon Tester (Mont.), both uncommitted in the Democratic nomination battle.

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