Jan. 28, 2008 — -- Heading into a 22-state, delegate-rich Super Tuesday showdown Feb. 5, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., got a boost from the liberal lion of the Senate, earning the highly sought Kennedy anointment Monday afternoon at an American University rally.
In an ABC News exclusive, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and his niece Caroline Kennedy sat down with "World News" anchor Charles Gibson following their endorsement of the Illinois senator.
Watch "World News With Charles Gibson" tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET for the full report.
Though Kennedy's rhetoric on stage seemed at times targeted at the Clintons and, specifically, toward former President Bill Clinton, Kennedy insisted that the timing of his endorsement was "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 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."
Caroline Kennedy said that the impact of Obama's candidate on her children was something that made her take note.
The daughter of the late John F. Kennedy said "seeing the impact [Obama] was having on my children, because that's what I saw up close and first hand, I really began to realize that this was something special and different."
Like her uncle, she 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.
One of the Democratic establishment's towering figures, Kennedy shared the stage Monday with son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., and niece Caroline, who endorsed Obama in an op-ed in Sunday's New York Times.
For Bill Clinton, who has always cast himself as Kennedy's political heir, the endorsement was a slap in the face. For White House hopeful Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., who prides herself on her work with Ted Kennedy in the Senate, it was also a slight. And while the Clinton campaign would have loved the endorsement of the Massachusetts heavyweight, it's quick to point out that they 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 this afternoon was a blistering attack on the language and the 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 today 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.