THE NOTE: Dem Establishment Divided in Obama-Clinton Race

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Sen. Ted Kennedy on Monday endorsed Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign, lending the full weight of the Kennedy name to a candidate who is seeking to defeat the Clinton political machine.

Making explicit comparisons to his slain brothers, Kennedy, D-Mass., appeared at a rally in Washington alongside his niece, Caroline, and his son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., to make his endorsement official.

"I feel change in the air," Kennedy said to thunderous applause, with a turn-away crowd of more than 4,000 crowding an auditorium at American University.

"Every time I've been asked over the past year who I would support in the Democratic Primary, my answer has always been the same: I'll support the candidate who inspires me, who inspires all of us, who can lift our vision and summon our hopes and renew our belief that our country's best days are still to come," Kennedy said.

"I've found that candidate," he added. "He will be a president who refuses to be trapped in the patterns of the past."

Though Kennedy went out of his way to praise Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former senator John Edwards, his kind words for Obama included a mention of that fact that Obama has run a largely positive campaign.

"He is a fighter who cares passionately about the causes he believes in, without demonizing those who hold a different view," Kennedy said.

In a veiled reference to former President Bill Clinton -- who has questioned Obama's opposition to the war in Iraq -- Kennedy said Obama has consistently opposed the war. And he said Obama would "turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion" -- another apparent tweak at the Clintons, whom he has accused of distorting Obama's record.

"There is the courage, when so many others were silent or simply went along, from the beginning, he opposed the war in Iraq," he said. "And let no one deny that truth."

Sen. Ted Kennedy brings with him a complex bag of sentiments and historical crosscurrents (along with Caroline Kennedy and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.) when he makes his endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama official at American University at around noon ET.

No wonder Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to "take a deep breath." She's not just running against Obama anymore -- she's facing down a movement, one that's adding the support of an old guard that's trying to take the Democratic Party back from the family that's dominated it for 16 years.

It's as if the members of the party establishment (those established independent of the Clintons) have suddenly remembered, almost at once, that they don't love the Clintons.

And one more voice weighs in: Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison -- who in 1998 declared Bill Clinton to be the nation's "first black president -- plans to announce her endorsement of Obama on Monday, an Obama campaign source tells The Note.

Meanwhile, Monday night at 9 pm ET, President Bush delivers his final State of the Union address, laying down markers for what promises to be a rough (if not irrelevant) last year.

It's a glimpse of a presidency in decline, without the spark the GOP so desperately wants from its party leaders. The president's tour through Iraq, earmarks, AIDS funding, FISA, tax cuts, and the economy is likely to be less inspiration than distraction to a Republican presidential field that can't figure out what to do with a president that none of them wants to run from or toward.

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