Patrick Kennedy, a representative of Rhode Island, today reminded a packed crowd at American University in Washington that the 26th Amendment that lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 came about largely through the work of his father, Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.
“And I can see that all of you are going to make good use of that this election. Right?” asked Mr. Kennedy as he, his father and his cousin Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy, formally endorsed Barack Obama for president.
Each Kennedy family member incorporated youth or issues important to young people in their speech on the college campus. Caroline Kennedy talked about how her three teenagers are big Obama fans, and Senator Kennedy spoke of President Kennedy’s commitment to youth public service as well as Mr. Obama’s dedication to the fight against global warming.
Mr. Obama himself told the crowd that he’s able to run for president because his father, who grew up in poverty in Kenya, received a grant from the Kennedy Foundation to study abroad.
Kaitie O’Hare, 17, drove down from Baltimore with her mom early this morning to make sure she got her chance to see Mr. Obama speak. She called the whole experience – which included several hours lined up in the cold outside the Bender Arena – “inspiring and moving.”
And of Senator Kennedy’s endorsement, she said, “It’s good because Hillary’s not getting it.”
“Ted Kennedy’s, like, ‘Mr. Democratic Party,’ and everyone’s always talking about the whole experience thing, and here’s the most experienced guy in Washington saying he thinks Barack’s the guy for the job,” said Brian Levy, 18, a friend of Ms. O’Hare’s who attends George Washington University in Washington.
“I think this is one of the biggest events in the election so far,” he added.
Friends Melani Hom, 22, and Danielle Pals, 21, work at nonprofits in Washington and skipped a half-day of work to go to the rally. Pre-rally, they were leaning toward Mr. Obama, and they said they, too, were impressed by the speeches they heard.
“Right before, Danielle was like, ‘I’m looking for some inspiration,’ and I got some chills,” Ms. Hom said. “I think Kennedy and Obama bring a balance of old and new Democrats.”
“I think it brought some revitalization to the campaign,” Ms. Pals added. “I think it brings a different group of people on board – I hope.”
The younger – we mean really young – crowd also soldiered the cold to show their support for Mr. Obama, sometimes by their own choosing and sometimes, well, not. The rally coincided with a teacher institute day for the Arlington, Va., school district, so a lot of kids spent their day off learning about politics.
“I don’t want to be here. It’s really cold,” said Lydia Packard, 9, of Arlington, Va., whose mom Nancy Butt Packard is an Obama supporter.
That said, Ms. Packard admits she’s learned a little bit about Mr. Obama at home from her parents. “I hear them say he’s a good person.”
Zulaika Brown, 7, of Columbia, Md., perhaps approaches politics more seriously.
“He’s a great man and we want him to be president because he’ll be good to us and our country,” said Ms. Brown, who is home-schooled, of Mr. Obama. “He’ll be the first African-American president, and maybe he’ll stop the war.”
And she loves — loves — the idea of Mr. Obama’s daughters Malia, 9, and Sasha, 6, moving into the White House. As she jumped up and down in excitement, the only word Ms. Brown could eke out about the Obama girls was that it would be “cool” if she could someday play with them.
“I told her she’s not old enough to vote,” said her mother, Faridah Brown, “but if she could, she would vote for him.”