Kennedy says he and the Clintons are still friends

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Edward Kennedy may have thrown his political weight behind Democrat Barack Obama in the White House race, but he says that doesn’t mean he harbors ill feelings toward his old friends, Hillary and Bill Clinton.

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) makes remarks at a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) at American University in Washington January 28, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

“Absolutely not. I’m not against the Clintons. I’m for Barack Obama,” the Massachusetts senator and brother of the late President John F. Kennedy said on Tuesday.

“I’ve said I’m for Barack Obama. But I’m going to support Sen. Clinton or Sen. Edwards should they gain the nomination. It’s imperative that the Democrats be successful,” he said in an interview with NBC’s “Today Show.”

Kennedy, patriarch of one of the leading political dynasties in the United States, endorsed Obama at a raucous rally in Washington on Monday.

He was joined by his niece Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late president, and his own son U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy in backing Obama, a first-term Illinois senator who would be the country’s first black president.

The endorsement was widely seen as a blow to Hillary Clinton, a New York senator who is Obama’s chief rival for the Democratic Party nomination ahead of November’s presidential election. Clinton would be the first female U.S. president.

Some analysts saw Kennedy’s endorsement -- which cast Obama as an heir to the idealism of John Kennedy -- partly as a response to critical comments about Obama by Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Not true, Kennedy said.

“This race really isn’t about President Clinton. It’s a race of enormous consequence for our country. The stakes are extremely high when we look at the challenges that we’re facing here at home and abroad,” Kennedy told NBC.

Kennedy and Hillary Clinton exchanged a brief handshake when they both attended President George W. Bush’s State of the Union speech on Monday evening.

Reporting by David Morgan; editing by Mohammad Zargham