SENATOR Edward Kennedy brought a packed house to its feet in cheers Friday by urging support for Barack Obama, whom he said represents the youthful vigor and hope that his own elder brothers embodied decades ago.
"Helloooooo, East Bay!" he rumbled upon taking the microphone, rousing perhaps 1,400 Obama supporters filling Beebe Memorial Cathedral on Telegraph Avenue.
"Are you glad to see me? I'm glad to see you!"
Kennedy, 75, who endorsed Obama on Monday ahead of nextweek's Super Tuesday primaries said his relatives have been coming to the East Bay since 1959 seeking votes and support, and have never left disappointed. This year, he said, we face "an election of enormous importance and consequence, perhaps the most important election of my lifetime."
Obama's candidacy provides a chance to continue the forward motion America has made from the civil rights movement through the battles for equality for women and gays and lesbians, Kennedy said, a chance "to electrify this nation and get us back to the march of progress."
With Congress now locked in partisan bickering over issues from economic stimuli to electronic surveillance, he said, "We have to be liberated. We need Barack Obama."
And echoing the words of his elder brother, John F. Kennedy, at the 1961 presidential inauguration, Kennedy said Obama's candidacy marks a reinvigoration of citizen engagement and activism.
"I think you're ready to do something for your country," Kennedy told the crowd.
When Obama raises his own hand in January to take the oath of office, Kennedy said, "it's going to mean a new promise and a new day for the United States, and for leadership around the world. Are you fired up and ready to go?"
Before the rally, hundreds of people had lined up under leaden skies for seats in the church, their column stretching down Telegraph Avenue and around the corner, many waving and cheering when passing drivers honked their horns in support.
"It's a bizarre day in American politics when Ted Kennedy campaigns for Barack Obama in the Bay Area, and the most conservative part of that statement is 'Ted Kennedy'," said Republican National Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay in a statement. "Barack Obama claims to unite the country, but his new distinction as the 'most liberal' member of the Senate confirms that he's only uniting the extreme-left wing of the Democrat Party."
Kennedy made two similar appearances Thursday in New Mexico and another earlier Friday in Los Angeles. Obama held a town-hall meeting Thursday in Los Angeles before taking part in the televised debate that night, but won't be returning to the Bay Area before Tuesday's primaries.
Opinions vary on the power of endorsements, but the Kennedy family name could carry weight with several key California constituencies younger voters, for one.
Kennedy this week has been saying Obama represents the same youthful vigor and generational change that John F. Kennedy brought to 1960's presidential campaign. Yet this endorsement from a senator who has served since 1962 only Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., has more seniority also could help quell the concerns of those who believe Obama too inexperienced.
The Obama campaign almost certainly hopes that Latinos will recall Robert Kennedy marching with labor and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, and that African Americans remember Robert Kennedy's commitment to civil rights.
And the Obama camp hopes Ted Kennedy's blessing helps with organized labor, too. Obama on Friday picked up the endorsement of the Service Employees International Union California State Council, repres-enting 650,000 California workers. The union previously had been backing John Edwards, who withdrew from the race Wednesday.
Obama also has been endorsed by Caroline Kennedy, who is Ted Kennedy's niece and the daughter of John F. Kennedy. She's featured in a campaign television ad running this week in the San Francisco and Los Angeles markets, as well as on national cable, and she'll join Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey at a rally Sunday in Los Angeles.
Ted Kennedy's son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-Rhode Island, has endorsed Obama, too. But Robert Kennedy Jr. and his sisters, Kerry Kennedy and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, have endorsed Clinton, as has Anthony Kennedy Shriver another of Ted Kennedy's nephews, and the youngest brother of California's first lady, Maria Shriver.
Kennedy was introduced Friday by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, who said she was the first California House member to endorse Obama in large part because he's "the only senator in this race who was opposed to this war from the start. We've got to bring our troops home, and he is the one who I know can do it."
She said this election is "about the past versus the future and make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters Barack Obama is the future of this nation."
U.S. Sen. John Kerry,
D-Mass., the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, will headline get-out-the-vote rallies for Obama on Saturday in San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento.