The Washington Post

Ted Kennedy died 5 years ago today. Here’s how he helped elect Barack Obama.

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., smiles with Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., during a rally at American University in Washington Monday, Jan. 28, 2008. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

On August 25, 2009, Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy died at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts at the age of 77.

Eighteen months prior to his death, Kennedy endorsed then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in the 2008 primary fight -- a massive moment that many credit as a tipping point in Obama's challenge to then New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Obama had convincingly won the South Carolina primary two days before the Kennedy endorsement.)

In that speech, Kennedy cast Obama as the natural heir to the political legacy of his own family.  "I ask you to join in this historic journey -- to have the courage to choose change," Kennedy told a packed audience at American University. "It is time again for a new generation of leadership. It is time now for Barack Obama."

You can watch the entire speech here.

At the time, I wrote that Kennedy's endorsement was the most powerful sort possible. Here's a portion of that piece:

Kennedy, after all, is not simply the senior senator from Massachusetts. He's Ted Kennedy -- last of the brothers of the original first family in American politics (sorry Bill and Hillary) and standardbearer for liberals everywhere. For people of a certain vintage, Ted Kennedy serves as the embodiment of what it means to be a Democrat.

Winning Kennedy's endorsement then, is important for Obama in a number of ways. It -- coupled with the endorsement by John F. Kennedy's daughter Caroline Kennedy over the weekend -- makes a tangible connection in voters' mind between JFK, Robert F. Kennedy and Obama. That is a crucial connection as Obama seeks to continue to transform himself from a candidate into a movement on Feb. 5 and beyond. Kennedy's endorsement also gives Obama some opening to approach a group of rank-and-file Democrats -- union households, middle class whites -- who will be two of the crucial groups up for grabs on Feb. 5.

Kennedy didn't win Obama the Democratic nomination. Barack Obama did that. But, in one of his final major political acts, Kennedy used his outsized influence within the party to make clear who he thought its next best leader was.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
New Hampshire has voted. The Democrats debate on Thursday. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Philip Rucker and Robert Costa say...
For Trump, the victory here was sweet vindication, showing that his atypical campaign could prevail largely on the power of celebrity and saturation media coverage. But there was also potential for concern in Tuesday's outcome. Trump faces doubts about his discipline as a candidate and whether he can build his support beyond the levels he has shown in the polls.
The Post's John Wagner and Anne Gearan say...
Hillary Clinton, who was declared the winner of the Iowa caucuses last week by the narrowest of margins, now finds herself struggling to right her once-formidable campaign against a self-described democratic socialist whom she has accused of selling pipe dreams to his supporters.
People have every right to be angry. But they're also hungry for solutions.
Hillary Clinton, in her New Hampshire primary night speech
I am going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.
Donald Trump, in his New Hampshire primary victory speech
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
See results from N.H.

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.