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By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Democratic icon and a leading liberal voice, endorsed Barack Obama on Monday for the party’s presidential nomination and called the young lawmaker an inspirational uniter.

“He is tough-minded but he also has an uncommon capacity to appeal to ‘the better angels of our nature,'” Kennedy said, quoting from President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address in 1861.

Kennedy, flanked by Obama at an ear-splitting rally of several thousand people at American University, said, “Every time I’ve been asked over the past year who I would support in the Democratic primary, my answer has always been the same: I’ll support the candidate who inspires me, who inspires all of us.”

Kennedy invoked the memory of his brother, the slain President John Kennedy, and was joined onstage by the late president’s daughter, Caroline, and his own son, U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, in backing Obama, the 46-year-old, first-term Illinois senator who could be the nation’s first black president.