Kennedy Helps Clinton and Obama Break the Ice

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy joked on Wednesday about backing the losing sides in the Super Bowl and in the Massachusetts primary.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy joked on Wednesday about backing the losing sides in the Super Bowl and in the Massachusetts primary. (By Toby Jorrin -- Associated Press)
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By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 7, 2008

This time there was no "snub."

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) returned to the Senate yesterday after Tuesday's mega-battle in 22 state contests left their nomination fight practically deadlocked. Clinton and Obama talked briefly and let out a pair of loud laughs during a close vote on a $158 billion economic stimulus plan pushed by Democrats, trying to set a different tone -- at least in public -- for a race that their closest advisers now say could last into the summer.

The person who broke the ice was Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), whose endorsement of Obama played a key role in an earlier awkward Clinton-Obama encounter in the Capitol. Yesterday, after Clinton won handily in Kennedy's home state, he approached her while she was talking to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a prominent Clinton backer.

Kennedy cut in and made jokes at his own expense, prompting Obama to join in on the fun. Kennedy noted before a group of senators that Clinton's New York Giants had just stunned his New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, as well. "It's not been a good month for Ted in terms of contests," said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), an Obama supporter.

What a difference nine days makes.

On Jan. 28, fresh off his trouncing of Clinton in South Carolina, Obama was endorsed by Kennedy. During a pair of appearances on the Senate floor, Clinton and Obama studiously avoided each other as supporters treated Obama like a returning hero. Just before the start of the State of the Union address that night, Clinton reached out to shake hands with Kennedy as Obama turned to talk to McCaskill.

Played repeatedly on political chat shows on cable television, the event was turned into "The Snub."

With each candidate securing wins to be proud of on Tuesday, Obama and Clinton were decidedly upbeat. "She's in a great mood," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), a Clinton supporter who spoke with both candidates. "They both look tired, and they're both losing their voices."

Before leaving the Senate, Obama was pulled aside for some jovial banter with Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho), whose men's room arrest last year caused a national stir. On Tuesday, Obama won the Democratic caucuses in Craig's state.

Clinton, meanwhile, appeared to be more strategic in her final chats. She ventured into the far left corner of the chamber reserved for newcomers, where she buttonholed Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), who has remained undeclared in advance of Tuesday's Virginia primary.

Missing was Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who took a commanding lead for the GOP presidential nomination. McCain's supporters celebrated on his behalf, after Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) spied Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.). The two had spent the previous several days stumping for McCain.

"The rabbi! The rabbi!" Graham called out to Lieberman, as the two men laughed and hugged.

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