Camelot Crowns Obama for 'the Future'

Heading into a 22-state, delegate-rich Super Tuesday showdown Feb. 5, Sen. Barack Obama got a boost from an iconic American family, earning the highly sought Kennedy anointment Monday afternoon at an American University rally.

In an interview with ABC News' Charles Gibson, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and his niece Caroline Kennedy placed a Camelot crown on the Illinois senator, describing him as an heir to the legacy of the late John F. Kennedy.

Kennedy said he was "always going to support the candidate that was going to inspire me and I thought would inspire the Democratic Party."

Speaking of a Democratic candidate pool close on issues like the Iraq War, health care, the economy and the environment, the liberal lion of the Senate said, "Barack Obama had the unique abilities to be able to galvanize the young, to speak to hope and to try and bring North, South, East, West, young and old alike together, not only to win an election, but to govern."

Photo: Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy
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"I believe he has those intrinsic qualities to be a great president, and he has those intrinsic qualities on day one," Kennedy said.

A Heir to JFK's Legacy

Caroline Kennedy, who endorsed Obama in the Sunday New York Times in an Op-Ed "A President Like My Father," told Gibson the "impact that [Obama] was having, particularly on my children" made her take notice.

"My eldest daughter will vote for the first time and out on my book tour recently so many people came up to me and told me that they cast their first vote for my father, and they started to describe to me what that felt like. And it just sounded so much like [what] I am hearing from my own children that I thought: Well, this is really something special and we have a chance to change history here."

The highly sought endorsement was a blow to the presidential campaign of Kennedy's Senate colleague Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., who prides herself on her work with Kennedy. Before the endorsement, Kennedy says he spoke with former President Clinton. Caroline Kennedy says she spoke to Chelsea Clinton.

The Massachusetts senator says despite a heated primary season, Democrats will unite around the party's presidential nominee. Of Clinton, he said, "If she's the nominee, no one will work harder to elect her."

Caroline Kennedy spoke of "immense admiration" for Hillary Clinton, but said that this point in history "is sort of an out-of-the-box time and I think we need this kind of change."

Kennedys Say Endorsement Is About 'The Future'

Kennedy's rhetoric on stage Monday seemed, at times, targeted at the Clintons and, specifically, toward former President Clinton, Kennedy insisted that the timing of his endorsement was not a statement on party infighting and "really to the future."

"It's the future of our party, and it's the future of our country. Barack Obama has a very special and unique quality of inspiring. And I think that is what's important," Kennedy told Gibson.

Referencing the recent back and forth between Obama and the Clintons, Kennedy said that he wasn't "interested in sort of looking at the current situation" and that his focus was on the road ahead.

Kennedy said "my endorsement is about the future. And it's Barack Obama. And it's about whether he is going to be able to win the nomination and get about the business of bringing both the party and the country together. And I believe he has."

"What today was about, at least, in my view … to the people of my state, who will be voting next Tuesday, about who I believe can help lead this country and lead the world."

Like her uncle, Caroline Kennedy stressed the importance of moving forward.

"This kind of person doesn't come along very often, and when they do, I think that it really is up to all of us to give it a serious look and put aside whatever plans we might have had and really get behind that kind of inspiration and power," she said.

Kennedy Establishment Takes Endorsement to the Stage

One of the Democratic establishment's towering figures, Kennedy also shared the stage Monday with son Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.

While the Clinton campaign would have loved the endorsement of the Massachusetts heavyweight, it's quick to point out that it has its own backing from other members of the Kennedy clan: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Robert Kennedy Jr., children of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

Robert Kennedy Jr. told ABC News, "Teddy and Caroline have made their judgment, and I absolutely respect those judgements I feel just as strongly about my reasons for supporting Hillary Clinton."

The Massachusetts senator made it clear he admires Hillary Clinton too. But his speech Monday afternoon was a blistering attack on the language and tactics of the Clinton campaign.

"With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion. With Barack Obama, we will close the book on the old politics of race against race, gender against gender," Kennedy said Monday at the American University event.

Though the Kennedy endorsement carries obvious emotional significance for the Obama campaign and within the Democratic Party, its practical benefit is hard to gauge.

Potentially, it could weigh in Obama's favor come Feb. 5 in the Northeast and Southwest regions of the country, and with labor unions and Hispanics, the latter of whom come out in strong support of Kennedy's position on immigration reform.

But perhaps most significant at this stage in the delegate race for the Democratic nomination: a subtle reminder that a Democratic Party existed long before the Clinton era.

ABC News' David Wright contributed to this report.

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