Senator Edward Kennedy, patriarch of the most potent dynasty in Democrat politics and the "Liberal Lion" of the US Senate, has been taken to hospital after suffering a seizure at his Cape Cod home.
News that he had been airlifted to hospital in Boston shocked the political establishment. Kenn-edy has been a potent campaigner and legislator for almost five decades, underscoring his enduring influence only this year with his endorsement of Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The 76-year-old Massachussets senator was said to be resting comfortably while awaiting test results. He had been taken first to the local hospital in Cape Cod after falling ill yesterday morning. The earliest reports suggested he might have suffered a stroke, but family members said he had been able to discuss his condition with doctors.
Political friends and foes alike offered prayers for his health, and debated the possible impact if ill health forces him to slow down what had promised to be a punishing campaign schedule in this election year.
As the last surviving brother of the assassinated John F Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, the Massachussets senator has carried the torch for the clan's liberal politics for almost all his life, entering the Senate as soon as he was able at the age of 30.
His own chances of attaining the presidency were blighted by an incident in 1969, when he drove a car off a bridge near Martha's Vineyard. He escaped unharmed but his passenger, campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned. Senator Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and receiving a suspended two-month sentence.
Despite a failed bid for the presidency in 1980, when he tried to wrest the Democratic nomination from the incumbent, Jimmy Carter, Senator Kennedy continued to be one of the most influential legislators in Congress and among the most formidable figures in the Democratic party. His endorsement of Senator Obama over Hillary Clinton in January was a big moment in this year's campaign, representing a schism between two great Democratic families .
Senator Obama said his "thoughts and prayers" were with Teddy Kennedy. "We are going to try to find out as quickly as possible what is going on. He is one of my favourite people." John McCain, with whom Senator Kennedy had sought immigration reform last year, described him as "a legendary lawmaker". Senator Kenn-edy had surgery to remove a blocked artery last October and appeared to have made a full recovery.
"He is undergoing a battery of tests at Massachusetts General Hospital to determine the cause of the seizure," his office said in a statement. "Senator Kennedy is resting comfortably, and it is unlikely we will know anything more for the next 48 hours."