Kennedy speech electrifies Democratic convention

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A small whip of electricity coursed through delegates on the floor of the Pepsi Center as they watched the video tribute to Ted Kennedy on Monday night. Blue and white signs bearing the party patriarch's name were being passed around by ushers. Behind the podium on stage, a tall stool had materialised.

Speculation had grown steadily that Senator Kennedy, diagnosed in the spring with a malignant brain tumour, might be in the hall to watch the video by film-maker Ken Burns. There was even word that possibly, just possibly, he would say a few words.

Maybe this was media manipulation by Team Obama. Maybe the campaign was exploiting a great man in a time of great medical calamity for easy political gain. Or there is the alternative view: that Ted Kennedy's few minutes back at the microphone here in Denver, nearly three decades after his own bid for the presidency caved before Jimmy Carter, was the biggest, kindest gift anyone could have given him.

If his appearance here was not so big a surprise, his vigour beneath the lights - belying a prognosis that gives him months, not years, to live - was. Those close to the stage saw a man with strength still in his veins, and passion in his famous baritone voice. He saw the stool, but did not use it.

"My fellow Americans, I am so glad to be here," he began, bringing the arena to its feet. "And nothing, nothing is going to keep me away from this special gathering tonight." He went on to deliver a summons to the Democrats in the hall - and to all Americans beyond - to commit themselves to change and to the man whose campaign he first endorsed back in the chill of late January, Barack Obama.

More emotional a moment at a political convention would be hard to imagine, because of the knowledge that everyone present was silently sharing. The leader of a near mythic American clan already tested so often by tragedy - two brothers assassinated, one as president the other while trying to become president - was now facing a challenge he is unlikely to overcome.

None of this pain was in his script, of course, but lingered loud between the lines. "So many of you have been with me with the happiest of days and the hardest of days," he said, before vowing to fight on. "I pledge to you that I will be there next January on the floor of the US Senate."

And he ended with a declaration of mission and purpose closely echoing the words he delivered before surrendering to Mr Carter back in 1988. "The work begins anew," he said. "The hope rises again. And the dream lives on." Among family members who appeared on stage when he was done, it was his niece Caroline - who had introduced "Uncle Teddy" to the delegates - to whom the Senator gave the longest, strongest hug.

John F. Kennedy's daughter, who played a key role in Mr Obama's selection of a vice presidential running mate, admitted that just getting her uncle to Denver had been an undertaking. His doctors had expressed anxiety about his catching an infection and he continues chemotherapy. Indeed he checked in to a Denver hospital on Sunday upon his arrival for tests.

"He's so inspiring," Caroline Kennedy said on CBS television. "To watch him up there was just so great. What it took for him to get here was something I never thought I'd see in my life."