He arrives on Capitol Hill: tires burn, car windows drop, heads pop out and yell, "Hey, Teddy! Give 'em hell!" He strides the Senate corrdors at his habitual half-lope: his progress becomes a parade, the tourists scrambling, reaching, touching, firing flash-cubes like Roman candles. He and Sen. Henry M. Jackson, the nominal Democratic favorite for President, pay separate calls on a United Auto Workers regional conference in a Washington motel. Hardly anybody notices Jackson till his hosts, embarrassed, begin tugging delegates forward to say hello. But noncandidate Edward Moore Kennedy has to fight his way in and out of the room, through thickets of grown-up trade-union pros clawing for handshakes, jostling for pictures, begging for autographs on anything from matchbooks to dollar bills.
Teddy is the one who turns them on—the single incandescent presence, excepting only George Wallace, in the lack-luster Democratic Presidential politics of 1976. He has taken himself out of the running in the least uncertain terms since William Tecumseh Sherman, and political realists recognize a draft as a rare and remote eventuality. But the very pallor of the competition has suddenly made Kennedy, at 43, a kind of closet favorite in his own party—and a betting favorite in the White House—for the Democratic nomination. Nobody else now in the field can match his name, his looks, his pull, his polls or his link to the receding reverie of Camelot; nobody else so fires the imagination of the divided and hungry Democrats. "All of those other people are just whistling in the dark," says one old party hand in California. "In the end, we'll have to turn to Kennedy."
The vision is a recurring one for Democrats in troubled times: it flowered in 1968 and again in 1972, only to wilt at convention time, and Kennedy insists that it is just as distant from reality now. He argues quite reasonably that it is far too early to write off the active competitors; that the primaries will produce a nominee, just as they did the last time around; that this time the nominee will be elected in 1976 and re-elected in 1980, foreclosing any shot of his own at the Presidency at least till 1984. He treats the talk in the meantime with a kind of brittle and fatalistic good humor. But when the question is put to him seriously, he answers it in kind—"I'm not going to be a candidate. I will enter no primaries. If my name is placed on the ballot in any state, I"ll file an affidavit of noncandidacy.I won't accept a draft."
And yet, simply because he is the last Kennedy, he remains a prisoner of his own name and the aspirations of his peers in the party after more than six years' exile from the White House. their appetite for a Kennedy candidacy has only been quickened by the latest published polls. One, by Louis Harris last month, matched the senator and five other Democratic possibles against President Ford; only Kennedy came out ahead, by a solid 50-43. Another, published by George Gallup this week, tried out a list of 34 prospects on Democratic voters alone. Once again, Kennedy led the pack with 36 per cent, to 15 for Wallace, 9 for Hubert Humphrey, 6 for "front runner" Jackson and 4 or fewer for anybody else. "Kennedy," enthuses one West Coast Democratic pro, "is everybody's No. 1. All the rest of these guys are second choices."
A Question of Size
The winning glow in the numbers does disguise a continuing strain of ambivalence among Americans about whether this Kennedy is in fact a man of Presidential size. A telephone poll of 520 households, conducted for NEWSWEEK by The Gallup Organization in late April, returned a narrowly split verdict on whether he would make a good President—41 per cent said yes, 42 per cent no. The returns, moreover, showed precious little sentiment for the notion that America owes Teddy a chance to pick up where his slain brothers John and Robert left off. But the poll did suggest that the damage of Chappaquiddick, while substantial, has not been fatal: 42 per cent registered some concern about it to 52 per cent who felt little or none. And it rebutted the conventional wisdom that the scandal had hurt him particularly with women; they are considerably more sympathetic than men to the idea of a Kennedy dynasty—and a Kennedy Presidency.
The party pros the entirely aware that Kennedy is vulnerable in the cleanlier than-thou ethos of politics after Watergate. They are likewise largely willing to accept his word that he is not running—at any rate not now. But in this spring of their discontent, they have begun confecting scenarios in which a Kennedy draft could happen. The mainstream candidates, in the most common version, bloody one another inconclusively in the primaries. Wallace alone prospers, and arrives in the convention hall a major power. The convention drags through ballot after ballot to a stalemate, till finally—out of fear of Wallace and despond at the alternatives - the party sends Kennedy an SOS he cannot refuse. "The stands will be chanting those three magic words - Ken-ne-dee! Ken-ne-dee!" said one Southern state party chairman, "and I don't believe for a minute that he'd say no."
Kennedy's intimates are not entirely sure he would decline in those circumstances. But he has done nothing what-ever to encourage the idea or even to suggest that he gives it more than amused and abstract thought. He has, quite to the contrary, concentrated his energies on his work in the Senate, on his re-election campaign in Massachusetts and on the multiple traumata his family has sustained in the past several years. The Ted Kennedys have, for a change, had a run of good or at least hopeful luck recently: Joan has shown signs of snapping back from the emotional disturbances that bedded her in psychiatric clinics three times last year, and 13-year-old Ted Jr. has progressed well enough since his cancer operation to be taken of, chemotherapy next month, a half year ahead of schedule.
Kennedy in turn has worn his change in fortunes well. He has shed some of the fat that stretches his jowls and thicken his middle in the bad times; his body is lean, his mane modishly shaggy, his smile a runaway Ultra Brite commercial. He has largely repaired his Senate reputation, which had ebbed low after Chappaquiddick; he has used the Kennedy edge to advance a whole range of favored causes, from national health insurance to the lot of the world's refu-gees, and his name is no longer considered a detriment to a bill. He goes where he wants when he wants to, on the sup-position that people will say he is politicking even if he stays home in bed. Last week he packed up Joan, two sisters, one daughter and miscellaneous other kin folk and bondsmen for a jet journey—tourist-class, by family policy—to the Middle East; they amused themselves en route with a tabloid scandal sheet announcing: JACKIE'S NEW LOVE - IT'S TEDDY KENNEDY.
The Kennedy Repertory Co.
Amusement is Kennedy's armor; he responds to the insistent attention and speculation of the media largely by laughing at it.One afternoon, he griped mock-seriously to his press secretary and straight man Richard Drayne about a flattering write-up of a Senate colleague. "Why can't I get press like that Drayne?" he twitted. "Why can't I be revealed as modest, never seeking out the press, self-effacing?" ("I've had easier task," grumped Drayne.) Another day, he led a reporter through a bang-bang series of receptions with various groups—some high-school students, two trade union conferences, a deputation of Indians—and then "disclosed" that they were all really members of something called The Kennedy Repetory Company, "Drayne keeps them moving around, changing clothing whenever the press comes with us," said Kennedy. "But they're all the same people."
"Even the Indians?" asked the reporter.
"Well, you can't fake Indians," said Kennedy.
"But we keep them locked up in the same room," said Drayne.
'The Herald of Spring'
If the kidding conceals some secret design on the Presidency, neither Kennedy nor his inner circle have yet let it slip. The single chum who has intimated the senator's availability is House Majority Leader Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, a large, billowy Boston Irishman much liked by Kennedy for his vaguely raffish good fellowship. O'Neill tells every available audience that Teddy is not only willing but running; Kennedy has never protested being called a covert candidate, O'Neill maintains, and one version privately in circulation on the Hill is that the senator good-humoredly thanked him for "keeping my name alive." Kennedy's people merely note that O'Neill made similar announcements in 1968 and 1972, and that Kennedy likes him too well to rebuke him. "Tip," said one Kennedy intimate, "is not Robin Redbreast, the herald of spring. He's been on that corner peddling the same stuff for seven years."
Neither have there been any other go signs from the Kennedy camp; Teddy, on the contrary, has been assiduous to a fault about discouraging the talk about him. When a fan organized a "DrafTed Committee" in Lynn, Mass., Kennedy dashed off a letter urging him to dissolve it and help out in the Senate campaign instead. Old Kennedy Mafiosi have been informally freed to seek other candidates. Key staffers have drifted away; David Burke, once Teddy's key political adviser, is now on New York Gov. Hugh Carey's staff, and Drayne has lately been talking with the TV networks. Kennedy himself has turned down most out-of-state speaking invitations, explaining along with his regrets that to accept would be further to encourage the speculation that he is running. The Florida Democratic Party got just such a turn down for a Miami fund-raising dinner two months ago—and, after contemplating the other available Presidential-class guest stars, decided to do a mail appeal instead.
It is precisely that poverty amid plenty that has got Democrats in increasing numbers ready (if not unanimously eager) for Teddy. The dreamers are quite conscious that history weighs heavily against their dream—that, as old New Frontiersman Theodore Sorensen noted, "there hasn't been a convention deadlock since 1924 or a genuine draft since Garfield." Their response is that there rarely has been a field of competitors quite so uniformly unexciting as this one either. No one in the party looks quite so unkindly on the contenders as Senate Republican Leader Hugh Scott, who, with fine partisan scorn, called them "with a few exceptions ... a parade of pygmies." Yet they are depressed over the failure of any of the announced or presumed candidates to struggle free of the pack. "Most of us reject the idea of a brokered convention," says one savvy party organizer, "but nobody is showing us anything."
'They're Just Dull'
Nobody, that is, except Wallace, who terrifies the Democratic establishment, and Kennedy, who tantalizes it with rescue fantasies straight out of a Frank Merriwell novel. The others, for all their furious scrambling, have barely dented the public consiousness: Gallup's new survey revealed that only 59 per cent of the nation's voters have even heard of Scoop Jackson and that the rest of the candidates registered even more dimly—Rep. Morris Udall with a recognition rating of 38 per cent, ex-Gov. Jimmy Carter with 26, ex-Sen. Fred Harris with 16 and Sen. Lloyd Bentsen with a dis-heartening 15. The party elders hold nothing personal against any of them when they sit round constructing Teddy scenarios. "They're all very qualified," says Pete Kelly, the young executive director of California's Democratic party. "They're just dull."
The judgments, of course, are premature; the first primary is ten months distant, and the recent record of early front runners—George Romney, say, in 1968 or Edmund Muskie in 1972—suggests that it can in fact be fatal to get too far ahead too soon. Instead, the contenders have been busying themselves with the quieter labors of politics—raising cash, seeding organizations, each trying to convince the party's thus far skeptical leaders that he has the winning formula. The balance sheet so far:
Jackson, 62, the stubby four-term senator from Washington, and Bentsen, 54, the lanky first-term senator from Texas, remain the principal contenders for the party center; they expect to fight it out mano a mano in a half dozen critical big-state primaries bunched up between late March and mid-April, with the winner moving on to California in June with unbeatable momentum. Both have been out courting mainstream Democrats, Jackson by playing every fundraising bash he can get invited to, Bentsen by paying hey-look-me-over visits to smaller groups of party functionaries. But the Democratic left is wary of Bentsen and downright hostile to Jackson—possibly to the point of bolting the party if he gets the nomination. And neither man excites: Bentsen is ineffably low-key, Jackson irrepressibly gray. "Scoop," Washington comic Mark Russell cracked at a recent fundraiser, "gave a fireside chat and the fire went out."
The Democratic left has been shopping for a counterhero to Jackson ever since Kennedy dropped out last September and Minnesota's Sen. Walter F. Mondale followed two months later. But the pickings have been slender, and the field thus far remains the property of two relative unknowns—Harris, 44, a peppery Oklahoma populist, and Arizona's Udall, 52, a gangly liberal distantly descended from the New Frontier. Each is counting on making a name by surprising everybody in the earliest primaries; each accordingly has organized effectively in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, mostly among the combat-tested irregulars who helped bring off the George McGovern coup of 1972. But neither has yet come out of Teddy's long shadow, and they may shortly have at least one new com-petitor for liberal delegates: Indiana's Sen. Birch Bayh, 47, who has lately edged close to announcing and could have move in by Labor Day—if he is convinced that Senator Kennedy is out of the running for keep.
The New Southerners
Georgia Carter, 50, a man of cowlick charm anrelentless sincerity, has been barnstorning since December trying to persuade party leaders in 30 states so far that Southern moderate can win. Terry Sanford, 57, once governor of North Carolina and now president of Duke University has been bearing a similar message only a step or so behind. But their case rest on the proposition that they can neutralize Wallace in the Southern primaries and still hold Dixie for the Democrats. The party thus far remains unconvinced Wallace humiliated Sanford in the 1972 North Carolina primary, and is thought to be comfortably ahead of Carter in Georgia today. The two accordingly are taken most seriously as Vice Presidential timber.
The Old Faithful
Familiarity has thus far bred boredom with some of the old Democratic troupers still wait-ing in the wings, but one of them might yet get the call if the convention indeed deadlocks and Kennedy indeed holds out. Hubert Humphrey's appetite for the Presidency remains keen; some party people imagine him jumping into the late primaries if no one has locked away the nomination, and few doubt that he would be available for a draft. Edmund Muskie, too, is presumed willing, though his teary flame-out in 1972 and his continuing ambivalence make his nerve suspect to the pros. There is even a faint stirring of McGovern nostalgia, sparked alive by the fall of Richard Nixon, the rout in Indochina and the senator's own recent peregrinations through the Middle East and Cuba. But all three men are shelfworn goods; their lien on the allegiance of the party rests on their services in the past, not their prospects for the future.
Wallace, reduced and wheelchair-bound at 55, remains nevertheless the most feared man in the field—a mischief-maker who could chew up the competition in the primaries, arrive at the convention with as many as a third of the delegates and demand a decisive voice in the proceedings if not a spot of his own on the ticket. The regulars hold out some faint hope that somebody can embarrass Wallace somewhere in the primaries—perhaps Lloyd Bentsen in Tennessee—or that his chancy health will force him from the field. But they place little faith in either eventuality; the more common prayer is that the midnight call will go out from some convention back room and that Kennedy will accede to being king maker if not king—in either case sparing the Democrats having to run a Wallace-approved ticket on a Wallace-built platform.
'We're Like a Tomcat'
It is precisely this dispiriting picture—Wallace rampant on a field of gray—that has set off the ready-for-Teddy speculation in Democratic cloakrooms and clubhouses across the U.S. A Christian Science Monitor poll of 118 Democratic state party chairmen and national committeemen returned 31 votes for Kennedy, to 11 for Humphrey and negligible fistsful for any of the announced contenders. The Iowa state party asked its local leaders their preference; the an-swer was a resounding 70 per cent for Kennedy if he is available—and a doleful 50 per cent undecided if he stays out. And nothing yet has stilled the talk—not Chappaquiddick, not Kennedy's multiple family crises, not his repeated and insistent disclaimers of interest. "We're like a tomcat out in the full moon without a love object," says a city-hall Democrat in Boston. "We sit around indulging in wishful thinking because the one candidate who could get the nomination and not lose the Wallace people is not running."
Kennedy's attractions are obvious—painfully so to a party sunk as deep in ennui as his. He bears the Kennedy look and style, with more shirt-sleeve ease than John and less nervous intensity than Robert. He has wealth—$444,219 in income last year alone from four family trusts—and the assurance of throught and manner that wealth brings. He is, onstage and off, a prodigally gifted politician—perhaps the most gifted Kennedy yet. He speaks the language of all the party's ill-sorted, ill-tempered factions—the McGovern kids, the Wallace workingmen, the Jackson labor skates. Most of all, he carries the promise of high theater where none exists. "Face it," grouched one Kennedy man, "you [media] guys are already feeling the campaign, riding around in cramped, smoky airplanes and evil-smelling buses with some schnook. No fun, no excitement, no big win or big loss—no wonder you keep trying to get Kennedy in it."
The Chappaquiddick Factor
Kennedy's liabilities are of course equally glaring, and none more so than Chappaquiddick—a trigger word nearly as powerful and as corrosive for him as Watergate came to be for Nixon. Kennedy denies to this day that the scandal is what drove him out of the running. "I think I could have dealt with the issue," he says. One scenario in circulation among his people before he opted out of the race was for Teddy to submit to a full, exhaustive, live-television interrogation by the press on his role in the death of Mary Joe Kopechne, much as his brother John handled the Catholic question before an assembly of Protestant clergymen in 1960.
Yet others—some of Kennedy's best friends among them—are not so sanguine. The mere speculation last year that he might run wakened the issue; it produced a wave of bad jokes (including a proposal for a law against "swimming away from the scene of crime"), acid-etched bumper stickers (NOBODY DROWNED AT WATERGATE) and skeptical re-examinations of the record in the press. There are those who believe that Kennedy might yet live it down in a short campaign, particularly if unemployment and inflation are still running high. But the more common belief is that Chappaquiddick would neutralize Watergate as a Democratic attack weapon and make Kennedy's character the central issue instead. "Oh, boy," glows one Republican strategist, "let me run our man against Teddy. We wouldn't have to say one word about Chappaquiddick—the press would do it all for us."
A more compelling argument still for Teddy is his role as paterfamilias to the whole Kennedy clan—and their united opposition, from queen mother Rose on down, to his undertaking a race for President this time. Ill fortune has made him protecter to John's children, then Bobby's, and now to the widowed Jacqueline Onassis as well. His Joan is a fragile and anxious sort, insecure among the remorselessly bubbly Kennedys and at intervals a problem drinker. Friends say she has been "doing fine" since that bleak passage last year when she disappeared for weeks at a time into discreet private clinics in Connecticut and California, and was arrested for drunk driving not long after her coming out. But the Kennedy circle would be happier if her apparent recovery were not subjected to the brutal strains of Presidential politiking—not, in any case, in 1976.
Kennedy's children likewise need him: only 15-year-old Kara among them has been spared a catastrophic illness. His oldest son, Ted Jr., has adjusted well to an artificial limb since his cancerous right leg was amputated eighteen months ago. But his life since then has been a nightmare round of hospital stays every three weeks for massive preventive doses of methotrexate; the side effects of the drugs are devastating—pain, fever, chills, vomiting—and when Kennedy brought home the news that it would soon be over, the boy hugged him in spontaneous joy. And Patrick, at 7, is a victim to the most persistent and dangerous form of asthma. He takes steroids daily, an extreme course for a child, and carries an inhalator to help him through his worst moments. But he was left back a year in school, and some nights he wheezes so badly that Kennedy sleeps with him simply to be near. "It's terrible," said the senator, "just to hear that struggle to breathe."
The ghosts of his brothers follow in his train as well, and with them the fear—even the supposition—that someone somewhere in that far shadowy margin of American life is waiting to murder this Kennedy, too. The angst has lately been rekindled by the ferocity of a band of antibusing activists who have taken to dogging his path whenever he visits the Boston area. Their protests have escalated from ugly taunts ("Why don't they shoot you like they did your broth-ers?") to jostling, jabbing, pokes and kicks; once, Kennedy's car was engulfed in a mob, and he had to jog to a subway behind a flying wedge of police and aides to escape. The violence has been vastly less than murderous, but it has heightened the atmosphere of menance around Kennedy and the anxiety among his admirers. "They're not worried about Chappaquiddick or the other candidates," said one California Democratic pol. "It's that kook out there waiting to shoot the last Kennedy."
What this Kennedy has is time. He can miss the train next year and again in 1980, just as he predicts, and still be only 52 when his turn comes up in 1984. In the meantime, he has achieved a certain comfort in being a senator, and the leader of the Kennedy government-in-exile as well. Some confidants say he quite enjoys the Presidential talk, for all his protestations of annoyance and amusement; it is flattering, it is useful to his multiple causes, and it keeps his options alive without his having to lift so much as a finger. "At the moment of truth," says a family friend, "Teddy will say no. But in the meantime, he'll flirt with it, he'll want it, and he'll enjoy all the attention it brings him."
That attention is in fact a source of Kennedy's authority in Democratic politics and in public life. The simple presumption that he will someday claim the Presidency as his inheritance brings in talented help—his staff is one of the best and brightest on the Hill—and surrounds him with eager brain-trusters on the outside; they are not a shadow Cabinet, says one aide, but when Kennedy calls, "they answer their phones." Foreign dignitaries pay him court; Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin came around for an office lunch and correctly admired the art—notably a mobile constructed by Ted Jr. out of drinking straws.
On his travels abroad, he is received as a visiting crown prince. Saudi Arabia, the first stop on his four-nation Middle Eastern tour, accorded him the kind of hospitality normally reserved for a Henry Kissinger—chauffeured cars, heel-clicking salutes, lodgings at the royal guest house in Riyadh, extended sitdowns with King Khalid ibn Abdel Aziz and his eminence grise, Prince Fahd. The Saudis' powerful petroleum minister, Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani, laid on a party for the entire Kennedy entourage in a desert tent, with whole roast lambs and camel rides and a 24-piece orchestra; the sheik even tempted the senator into a shuffling facsimile of an Arabian sword dance.
The Year of the Antihero
If Kennedy lusts after the nomination, he has covered his tracks well. "He's spoken for himself very clearly," says his brother-in-law Stephen Smith, "and I honestly believe that he means it. Anything beyond that is the sheerest sort of fantasizing." Yet the fantasy, if that is what it is, has persisted with remarkable hardihood, and has flourished in this year of the antihero in Democratic Presidential politics. Its promulgators can see it all happening—the hopeless dead-lock, the back-room dickering, the midnight appeal in the name of the party and the nation, the helicopter settling down out of the darkness, the last Kennedy grinning dazzlingly into the lights and the roar. They believe his reluctance but do not accept it as final. They remember the rule laid down by Jack and Bobby, that there are times when you just cannot wait. They assume that Ted Kennedy remembers it too—and that not even he can say certainly how he will respond if that time should come to him in 1976.