Kennedy galvanises fight to reform US healthcare

'Win one for Teddy' has become the motto as Obama supporters try to win the late Senator's final battle, reports David Usborne

The memories of the life of Edward Kennedy, the dynasty he represented and his five decades of service in the US Senate will compete at his funeral in Boston tomorrow morning with gathering questions about the political void he leaves behind.

They will be pressing down in particular on President Barack Obama, who is due to give the oration at the service in the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Hope, which will also be attended by four former presidents.

He will know that Senator Kennedy's death removes a vote that may have proved crucial to passing his healthcare reform bill. It may yet however have a galvanising effect on the party.

There is word that a bill might be named after Senator Kennedy. "You've heard of 'Win one for the Gipper'?" noted Ralph Neas, the head of the National Coalition on Healthcare, referring to the old refrain of Ronald Reagan fans. "There is going to be an atmosphere of 'Win one for Teddy'."

It will have been the greatest regret of Senator Kennedy, who died of brain cancer on Tuesday at age 77, that he did not live to see his great dream of universal healthcare realised.

The peril for all players – Democrats and Republicans – is to be seen to be using the grieving for partisan ends, even before the senator is buried. That happens tomorrow evening, when he will be interred at the Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, alongside his slain brothers, Bobby and John F Kennedy.

But the temptation was too much for some. "The left is exploiting him – his death and his legacy – and they are going to do it, as predicted, to push healthcare through," the conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh warned his listeners.

The focus for the Kennedy family remains the mourning of Teddy, who for so many years was the steady column on which his restless clan anchored. Long banished were the less flattering memories of his more wayward years – the drinking, the womanising, the divorce from his first wife, Joan, and, of course, the mortifying scandal of the drowned aide, Mary Jo Kopechne, at Chappaquiddick 40 years ago.

On Wednesday night, a Nantucket light-ship slipped into the shallows outside the Kennedy home at Hyannis Port to cast a beam on the former senator's beloved sailing schooner.

Meanwhile, through night and day, the family ensured that at least one among them was by his body constantly, lest at any time he felt alone.

Later yesterday evening, a cortege bearing the body of the icon of American liberalism and the so-called Lion of the Senate undertook a three-hour journey from the family compound to Boston, where Senator Kennedy will lie in repose at the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, to allow the public to pay their respects before the funeral.

Thousands of people lined the road to Boston to honour the cortege as it made its way to Boston and travelled past landmarks close to Kennedy's heart: a park named after his late mother, Rose, and the church where she was baptised and buried.

Among the mourners was Jean Kennedy Smith, the last survivor of the nine children who were born to Rose and Joseph Kennedy, of which three – Joe Jr, JFK and Bobby – were killed before their time, one in a Second World War plane over Britain, the other two by bullets. Presiding over the wake was Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the senator's beloved second wife whom he married in 1992.

John McCain, the Republican senator who lost last year's presidential election to Mr Obama, will join Vice President Jo Biden and the Massachusetts senator John Kerry to pay tribute at a private memorial service tonight at the library and museum.

The next two days will be a time of national grieving that will at times resemble the send-off given to US presidents. Joining Mr Obama in the front pews tomorrow will be George W Bush and his father George Bush Sr. Jimmy Carter will attend as will Bill and Hillary Clinton.

These were the kinds of occasions where Mr Clinton, as president, seemed always to excel, so America will be watching Mr Obama – who at times fails to summon the kind of emotion that Senator Kennedy himself brought to the chamber – to see how he rises to the moment.

Thereafter, it is the healthcare debate that will absorb Washington's attention. Without Senator Kennedy, the Democrats lose the 60-vote majority that protects them against Republican filibustering. That might be overcome if the state laws can be changed to allow the Governor of Massachusetts to appoint an interim Senate replacement quickly.

Democrat leaders will step up appeals to all sides to honour Senator Kennedy's memory by uniting on healthcare. Robert Byrd, the only senator with more years of service than his former colleague, called on everyone to use the moment to "stop the shouting and name calling and have a civilised debate on healthcare reform which I hope, when legislation has been signed into law, will bear his name for his commitment to insuring the health of every American".

Farewell to a giant: From lying in state to burial

Today Teddy Kennedy's body will lie in repose in Boston at the JFK Presidential Library. Building the venue became one of his most important personal labours in the year after his brother's assassination.

This evening A private memorial will be held at the adjoining museum, attended by invited guests. Speakers at the service will include the Vice-President Joe Biden and Senator John McCain.

Tomorrow President Barack Obama will give the eulogy at a funeral mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston. Also in attendance former presidents, George Bush Snr and Jnr, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

Tomorrow night At 5pm, the body of Edward Kennedy will be interred alongside his two brothers John F Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy at the Arlington National Cemetery, just outside Washington DC.

Runners and riders: Who will inherit the Kennedy Senate seat? By Stephen Foley

Vicki Reggie Kennedy

Kennedy's widow is from a political family of her own, the Reggies of Louisiana. Her late husband would have liked nothing better than to see her take his place. A lawyer and divorcee when she met him in 1991, she was responsible for getting him back on the rails. She is being pushed as an ideal interim candidate or full-time successor but has signalled she has no interest.

Joseph P Kennedy II

If the torch is to pass to a new generation the dynasty, it is the son of assassinated Bobby Kennedy who looks most likely to run. Joe, 56, served six terms as a Massachusetts Congressman and now runs a non-profit organisation, Citizens Energy which provides heating to low- income families. He has a $2m political warchest and ~ a still-high public-approval rating.

Michael Dukakis

Now 75 and with his political ambitions many years behind him, the Democratic presidential candidate whipped by George Bush Sr in 1988 is being tipped as an interim replacement until an election is held. Dukakis governed the state for longer than any other politician, and his lifelong commitment to universal healthcare makes him a seductive choice.

Michael Capuano

The Kennedy-Kerry roadblock that has kept new blood from Massachusetts Senate seats for 25 years means that several of the state's delegation to the House are so senior that they would be foolish to start over in the Senate. Not so Michael Capuano. He is still trading on his record as a small-town mayor, when he helped post-industrial Somerville lose its nickname "Slummerville".

Martha Coakley

The ambitious state attorney-general conducted secret polling for a possible Senate run last year, when it looked as if Kerry might quit to join Team Obama, and the results came back positive. She built her public-service reputation on law enforcement, overseeing the prosecution of Catholic priests for sexual abuse. Her Action Woman image makes her an early favourite.

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