By Susan Milligan
WASHINGTON -- Senator Edward M. Kennedy will endorse Barack Obama for president tomorrow, breaking his year-long neutrality to send a powerful signal of where the legendary Massachusetts Democrat sees the party going -- and who he thinks is best to lead it.
Kennedy confidantes told the Globe today that the Bay State's senior senator will appear with Obama and Kennedy's niece, Caroline Kennedy, at a morning rally at American University in Washington tomorrow to announce his support.
That will be a potentially significant boost for Obama as he heads into a series of critical primaries on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5.
Kennedy believes Obama can ``transcend race'' and bring unity to the country, a Kennedy associate told the Globe. Kennedy was also impressed by Obama's deep involvement last year in the bipartisan effort to craft legislation on immigration reform, a politically touchy subject the other presidential candidates avoided, the associate said.
The coveted endorsement is a huge blow to New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who is both a senatorial colleague and a friend of the Kennedy family. In a campaign where Clinton has trumpeted her experience over Obama's call for hope and change, the endorsement by one of the most experienced and respected Democrats in the Senate is a particularly dramatic coup for Obama.
"The America of Jack and Bobby Kennedy touched all of us. Through all of these decades, the one who kept that flame alive was Ted Kennedy,'' said Representative Bill Delahunt, A Quincy Democrat who is also backing Obama. ``So having him pass on the torch [to Obama] is of incredible significance. It's historic.''
Obama's landslide win in South Carolina yesterday gives Obama and Clinton two wins each in the primary campaign, and puts the two senators in a fierce battle for delegates on Feb. 5, when 22 states will hold Democratic primaries and caucuses.
While polls show Clinton ahead in some large states, including her home state of New York and delegate-rich California, the Kennedy endorsement gives Obama a stamp of approval among key constituencies in the Democratic party that could make Super Tuesday more competitive.
Kennedy plans to campaign actively for Obama, an aide said, and will focus particularly among Hispanics and labor union members, who are important voting blocks in several Feb. 5 states, including California, New York, New Jersey, Arizona and New Mexico.
The Massachusetts senator was key in helping his colleague, Senator John F. Kerry, score a comeback win in Iowa in 2004, sending Kerry on a path to the nomination. Kennedy campaigned on his own and released several senior members of his staff to work for Kerry.
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.