BOSTON — U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was a Democrat’s Democrat, so much so that he became a rallying point for those in his party and an object of derision for Republican opponents.
Yet his affability and capability to span the partisan divide on an array of legislative matters prompted an outpouring of condolences from those in the Republican Party as well as the Democrats following his death Tuesday at age 77 from brain cancer.
President Barack Obama led the Democrats, saying in a statement: “For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well-being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts.”
The widow of another president, Ronald Reagan, was one of the first to speak out from the Republican Party.
“Given our political differences, people are sometimes surprised by how close Ronnie and I have been to the Kennedy family,” Nancy Reagan said in a statement from Los Angeles.
“But Ronnie and Ted could always find common ground, and they had great respect for one another. In recent years, Ted and I found our common ground in stem cell research, and I considered him an ally and a dear friend. I will miss him.”
Her husband died in June 2004 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
For the governor of her home state, the loss was personal.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose wife, Maria Shriver, was Kennedy’s niece, said in a statement: “He was known to the world as the Lion of the Senate, a champion of social justice, and a political icon. Most importantly, he was the rock of our family: a loving husband, father, brother and uncle.”
Schwarzenegger, who came to politics after careers as a bodybuilder and actor, credited Kennedy with helping him in his current role.
“I have personally benefited and grown from his experience and advice, and I know countless others have as well,” the governor said. “Teddy taught us all that public service isn’t a hobby or even an occupation, but a way of life and his legacy will live on.”
Kennedy’s death came just two weeks after that of Shriver’s mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, one of the senator’s siblings.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a 2008 Republican presidential contender, recalled losing to Kennedy in a 1994 Senate race. Nonetheless, the two joined forces in 2006 to help pass a universal health insurance law in Massachusetts.
“The last son of Rose Fitzgerald and Joseph Kennedy was granted a much longer life than his brothers, and he filled those years with endeavor and achievement that would have made them proud,” Romney said, recalling the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, as well as the World War II death of Joseph Kennedy.
“In 1994, I joined the long list of those who ran against Ted and came up short. But he was the kind of man you could like even if he was your adversary,” Romney added.
The Senate’s top Democrat, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, labeled Kennedy the “patriarch” of the party.
The Senate majority leader promised that Congress, while mourning Kennedy’s loss, would renew the push for the cause of Kennedy’s life — health care reform.
“Ted Kennedy’s dream was the one for which the founding fathers fought and for which his brothers sought to realize,” Reid said in a statement. “The liberal lion’s mighty roar may now fall silent, but his dream shall never die.”
Kennedy’s junior colleague, Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat, lauded him for his cancer fight.
“He taught us how to fight, how to laugh, how to treat each other, and how to turn idealism into action, and in these last 14 months, he taught us much more about how to live life, sailing into the wind one last time,” Kerry said.
“No words can ever do justice to this irrepressible, larger than life presence who was simply the best — the best senator, the best advocate you could ever hope for, the best colleague and the best person to stand by your side in the toughest of times.”