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After South Carolina

Kennedy Will Endorse Obama In Blow to Clinton

Supporters reach over a fence to embrace Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) after a speech Saturday in Columbia, S.C. Obama said his campaign faces challenges in the upcoming flurry of primaries on
Supporters reach over a fence to embrace Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) after a speech Saturday in Columbia, S.C. Obama said his campaign faces challenges in the upcoming flurry of primaries on "a much more compressed schedule." (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 28, 2008; Page A01

BIRMINGHAM, Ala., Jan. 27 -- Seeking to build on his landslide win in Saturday's South Carolina primary, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) will receive the endorsement of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) in Washington on Monday, sources close to both men said Sunday night.

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The Kennedy stamp of approval was one of the most sought-after prizes of the Democratic nomination battle, and it represents a coup for the Illinois senator, adding an establishment seal of approval to what began a year ago as a long-shot White House bid. Obama had cultivated Kennedy's support for months. So had Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who along with her husband, former president Bill Clinton, had pressed Kennedy in recent days to at least remain neutral.

Kennedy's decision came after weeks of his rising frustration with the Clintons over campaign tactics, particularly comments by the couple and their surrogates in South Carolina that seemed to carry racial overtones. Kennedy expressed his frustrations directly to the former president, but to no avail. He came to his endorsement decision over the past week, after speaking to numerous family members, especially younger ones, and gave Obama the word on Thursday, people familiar with the endorsement said.

Kennedy, a liberal icon revered by Democratic Party faithful, is scheduled to appear with Obama at American University's Bender Arena, campaign sources said. The veteran senator will be joined by his niece, Caroline Kennedy, who announced her support for Obama on Sunday in a New York Times op-ed in which she compared Obama to her late father, John F. Kennedy.

Clinton, meanwhile, will try to rebound from her defeat Saturday by barnstorming a number of states that will vote Feb. 5 before traveling to Florida on Tuesday night to attend what her campaign expects will be a victory party after that state's primary. The Democratic contest is not being recognized by national party officials, and the candidates pledged not to campaign there, but Clinton's campaign is still hoping for a public relations bump from the results in the state.

"I'm running to be the president of our entire country, and hundreds of thousands of people have already voted in Florida, and I want them to know that I will be there on Tuesday to be part of what they have tried to do, to make sure their voices are heard," Clinton said Sunday.

The Democratic National Committee has said it will not seat Florida's delegates to the national convention this summer because the state moved up its primary in violation of party rules, which were established to prevent a mad scramble among states to move up the nominating calendar. Clinton is seeking to have those delegates recognized, along with those of Michigan, which also ignored DNC rules by holding an early primary. She traveled to Sarasota and Miami on Sunday, although for fundraisers, not technically the kind of campaign appearances that all the candidates have promised not to hold.

Clinton's last-minute play for Florida was an audacious move, and one that Obama chose not to answer with his own lap around a state that could prove important should its large slate of delegates ultimately be counted, as many Democrats expect.

"I know that all the candidates made a pledge that we would campaign in the early states and not campaign in Florida and Michigan," Obama told reporters aboard his campaign plane Sunday en route from Macon, Ga., to Birmingham. "I will abide by the promise I made earlier that I will not campaign in Florida."

Kennedy has watched Obama closely since Illinois elected him to the Senate in 2004, and he seriously considered backing Obama when he won Iowa on Jan. 3, according to a senior Democratic source close to Kennedy who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Obama had sought Kennedy's advice more than a year ago, when he was deciding whether to jump into the 2008 race. Kennedy urged him to go ahead, arguing that such opportunities come around rarely.

Still, Kennedy had resolved to stay neutral in this year's presidential campaign, in large part because his old friend Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) was a candidate, the source said. After Obama's convincing Iowa win, however, Kennedy came to see Obama as a potentially historic candidate, an African American able to connect across racial lines and to inspire young voters. He coordinated his announcement with Caroline Kennedy, with the two agreeing that she would break the ice with the Times piece.

After the news of the endorsement broke, the Clinton campaign distributed a statement from Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and a former Maryland lieutenant governor. "I respect Caroline and Teddy's decision but I have made a different choice," she said, noting that "my brother Bobby, my sister Kerry, and I are supporting Hillary Clinton."


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