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World News

Kennedys, roaring crowds give Obama rally '60s feel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With Kennedys on the stage and Beatlemania-like screams from the crowd, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s campaign stop on Monday took on the aura of the early 1960s.

As members of the prominent political family took turns endorsing the Illinois senator, their words were often swallowed up by ear-piercing screams from the crowd of several thousand gathered in a gymnasium at American University.

Like the ecstatic throngs that welcomed the Beatles when they first visited America, the cheers of thousands of young supporters often outmatched the voices of those holding the microphone.

They emptied their lungs at every mention of Obama’s name, drowning out Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, his son U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island and Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the slain President John Kennedy.

After the rally, Sen. Kennedy and Obama gave a second speech to hundreds who had waited for hours outside in the cold, shut out of the packed arena.

“We love you Obama!” young women screamed from nearby dormitory windows.

Obama, who would be the first black president, hopes America’s best-known political dynasty will help him fend off rival Hillary Clinton, who would establish a dynasty of her own if she took the White House eight years after her husband Bill left it.

Several in the crowd said they were turned off by the Clintons’ attempts to paint Obama as “the black candidate” over the past two weeks.

“You didn’t need to bring that into the equation,” said retiree Carol Belkin, 62, who said she had planned to support Clinton until last week. “I want to see this country brought together. I think the pair of them are divisive.”

“I thought it was really below the belt,” said Howard University graduate student Anita Wheeler, 24.

Obama’s charisma and youth have drawn comparisons to the late President Kennedy, who in 1963 delivered a famous speech at the same school calling for a ban on nuclear weapons testing.

Obama offered no new policy proposals as he devoted much of his 15-minute speech to praise of the Kennedys.

But he also made sure to ask for the votes of those in the crowd -- an unusual event for a national politician in the capital city, which has no representation in Congress and rarely plays a crucial role in presidential races.

This year could be different. Along with neighbouring states Virginia and Maryland, Washington’s primary is scheduled for February 12 and many observers expect the race will still be competitive at that point.

“My vote’s going to matter for a change,” said chef and Washington resident Karen Hayes, 42.

For others, seeing Obama in person seemed to be enough.

“You know how close I was to him?” gushed one young woman as she showed off her digital photos to a friend. “I was, like, right there!”

Editing by David Alexander and David Wiessler

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