Why the Kennedys Went for Obama

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Brooks Kraft / Corbis for TIME

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama poses with Senator Ted Kennedy, Monday, January 28, 2007.

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To be able to get elected, or to be able to accomplish things after?
E.K.: Afterward. I came to the Senate to get things done. We've been able to achieve a number of important achievements, and I want to continue that. My interest is in getting things done, and I think he has the ability to bring people together, not only for an election, but to achieve it. And that was the fundamental reason for my involvement now.

Can I ask you one more thing? About the role that Bill Clinton has played in this campaign?
E.K.: He's a very significant figure in our time and he cares very deeply about the process and he cares very deeply about her. And I admire his grit in trying to do everything he possibly can to secure the nomination for her.

Caroline Kennedy

You started thinking about this last summer?
C.K.: It was actually my kids talking about it last Christmas vacation. A friend of theirs, who is here today, is working for Senator Obama. It really made me realize that I should pay attention. I started going to events in New York last spring, and we went in the summer on the Vineyard with the kids and were talking to them. It was a gradual process. The bigger decision for me in a way was, should I do something more public than I usually would ever do? But I'd say it was a process and Teddy ... it was great to have him to talk to. And with the writing, I thought, well, let me see if I could put this together in a way that would make sense to me in terms of my own reason and feeling, and then I'll see what I do with it.

So you were talking to your uncle all along? Were you guys on separate paths or...?
C.K.: I didn't see him all that much... We saw him in the summer, the kids were telling him about the events we'd seen. We were lucky — all the candidates were on Martha's Vineyard last summer, so we had a great up-close view. Then not so much in the fall because obviously he had so many friends in the race.

Why have you stayed out of presidential politics until now? And what kind of a decision was it, given what you represent?

C.K.: I really felt like it was a crucial moment and if I had something that I believed in, then I really owed it to myself to express that. I recently turned 50, so I figured, I'd better get going — what am I waiting for?

Senator Barack Obama

B.O.: That was pretty strong. I gotta admit, I had to clamp it down a little bit. That was powerful stuff. When you see Ted, Caroline, Patrick together, and I think about the role they played in shaping my values and ideals and what I believe about America, the connection to my father traveling to Hawaii and meeting my mother [He described in his speech how his father had come to America in part because of a program for Kenyan students that had been championed by the Kennedys.] As I said, it brings things full circle.

What kind of message do you think this endorsement will send to the Democratic base and the country at large?

B.O.: I don't think there's anybody who understands the possibilities of government more than Ted Kennedy. So for him to endorse me in this fashion indicates his confidence that by unifying the country, we can bring about changes on universal health care, education, immigration reform. The major challenges that we face — he has been on the front lines, he knows what it takes. I think he gets a sense that the spirit we saw in this auditorium today is what can propel us past the divisions and the partisanship and the technical roadblocks that stand in the way of us achieving a better country.

He seems to have dispensed with every attack line against you in the space of one fairly short speech.

B.O.: Nobody's better than him. What's amazing is his voice has all the power of 30, 40 years ago. He is at the heart and soul of the Democratic Party — the belief in civil rights, the belief in opportunity for all people, in upward mobility, in caring for the least of these, a vision that extends beyond our shores. And he speaks to a vision in which we are a beacon for those who are still trapped in poverty or oppression. To have him offer such a powerful endorsement I think will mean a lot. Obviously, there are people who are still getting familiar with me nationwide. Their vision of this day will make them give me a close look.

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