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CAMPAIGN '08: SUPER TUESDAY

Kennedy to endorse Obama

The senator's support is called one of the big prizes of the race.

January 28, 2008|Peter Nicholas and Maria L. La Ganga | Times Staff Writers

BIRMINGHAM, ALA. — Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, an icon of Democratic Party politics, plans to endorse Sen. Barack Obama today.

Kennedy and his niece Caroline Kennedy are to appear with Obama at American University in Washington, according to the candidate's campaign schedule. Caroline Kennedy is the daughter of President Kennedy.

Reports that Sen. Kennedy plans to back Obama for president came on the same day that the New York Times published an op-ed piece by Caroline Kennedy in which she declared her support for Obama.

One of the most prized endorsements of the campaign, Sen. Kennedy is expected to use his stature with Latino voters and organized labor to make inroads into traditional Democratic constituent groups that have shown a preference for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Not to be outdone, the Clinton camp quickly released a statement Sunday from former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, in which she proclaimed her support for Clinton.

Sen. Kennedy plans to campaign for Obama in a swing to Western states this week and the Northeast next week, as the candidates prepare for a showdown Feb. 5.

The dueling endorsements reflected deep divisions within the Democratic Party establishment over the increasingly competitive presidential race.

Clinton is thought to be the establishment candidate: the wife of a former two-term president with her own national profile. So for Kennedy to align with a comparative upstart was somewhat surprising.

The Massachusetts senator has contributed funds to both candidates in the past. In June 2005, as Clinton was running for reelection to the Senate, Kennedy gave her $5,000 from his political action committee. In 2004, as Obama was running for the Senate, Kennedy gave him $5,000. He gave Obama $2,000 in June 2006, though Obama had no race at the time.

Former Nebraska Sen. Robert J. Kerrey, who is backing Clinton, said of the endorsement: "It's big. . . . In the next 48 hours every likely voter on the 5th of February will know that Sen. Kennedy is for Barack Obama."

Obama sidestepped questions Sunday about a possible endorsement. "I've had ongoing conversations with Ted since I got into this race, and the point where he is clear about what he's doing and wants to make it public I will let Ted make it public," he said.

A person close to Kennedy said the senator decided Thursday to endorse Obama and called him that day. Clinton was told Sunday, said the source, who requested anonymity in discussing internal campaign matters.

Kennedy and Obama have developed a friendship. Obama over a year ago discussed with Kennedy whether he should get into the race, and Kennedy encouraged him to do so, the source said. The two worked together on the immigration bill in the Senate.

Clinton and Obama are members of the health, education, labor and pensions committee, which Kennedy chairs.

Bill Carrick, a Democratic strategist who once worked for Kennedy, said the senator's endorsement was one of the three big prizes in the 2008 race. The others are former Vice President Al Gore and the party's 2004 nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.

Kerry has endorsed Obama, but Gore has not made an endorsement.

--

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

maria.laganga@latimes.com

Times staff writers Alan C. Miller and Dan Morain contributed to this report.

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