Ted Kennedy Vice President Run 1968

For days on end, numb and haunted, he stayed out of sight at The Compound or wandered the New England coast on his chartered yawl, the Mira, and Vineyard Sound and Maine. Not eight weeks ago he had buried his brother Robert and become the prime heir to the shards of Camelot and now, much as it pained him, Edward Moore Kennedy had to decide whether he too should plunge into the turbulent politics of 1968.  The prospect, for a half-fledged senator of 36, was incredible: his party was fairly begging him to run for Vice President. Through the long, changeless days of sun and sea, Teddy listened and brooded and silently weighted his options. Las week, he came home from his travels at last with an answer—and the answer was no.

The choice was not an easy one and, as the Kennedy circle well knew, it could prove harder still to enforce. With just four weeks to go till convention time, the elders of the Democracy suddenly confronted the inevitability of Huber Humphrey—and turned with something approaching desperation to Teddy to add a dash of Kennedy youth and style and glamour to a painfully unexciting ticket. Humphrey himself –unable to win a private audience with Kennedy—kept dropping hints in public about what a fine fellow his good young friend from Massachusetts is. Democratic caucuses at the National Governors Conference in Cincinnati turned into something like boost-Teddy rallies. Chicago's wily, jowly Mayor Dick Daly, the last of the Democracy's great bosses, went to the extraordinary length of endorsing Kennedy for Vice President before endorsing anyone for President. Indeed, it was the first time in U.S. political memory that a party groundswell was forming for a Vice Presidential candidate while the top spot on the ticket was still unfilled.

The object of it all, at the very least, was to set Teddy wondering whether the convention would take no for an answer. But no was Kennedy's answer nevertheless—a short, carefully crafted statement taking him out of the running for Vice President. He said he would speak out later on "certain vital foreign and domestic policies our party must pursue"—a course intimates had urged on him as a means of nudging Humphrey leftward on Vietnam and the cities. But for "purely personal" reasons, he said, he "will not be able to accept the Vice Presidential nomination if offered." He was honored at the thought, "but for me, this year, it is impossible…My decision is final, firm and not subject to further consideration."

Something new: The sigh of relief from Kennedy's intimates was almost audible, and so were groans from the party regulars—though none of this assured that Teddy had put an end to all the craft, cajolery and sheer pressure that a desperate party might summon up in the four weeks before Chicago. Not only the Democrats, but the Republicans as well have lately indulged in an almost hypnotic fascination with the No. 2 job—mainly in the hope that some of that pop mystical substance called the New Politics would rub off on the old politicians running for No.1. In this quest, Humphrey, to be sure, still had options—Sargent Shriver, say, for a bit of Kennedy incandescence at one remove, or even a shotgun wedding with Eugene McCarthy. Yet, though Humphrey's second choice was secret, his first was anything but. "After Teddy," said one top HHH aide, "everyone is equal."

And it was little wonder that Kennedy's name led all the rest. Try as he has to concentrate his campaign on the Humphrey future, the Vice President has been unable thus far to shake the Johnsonian past or intimate association with it—and his campaign as a result has yet to take fire. How then, to strike sparks? Everything seemed to point to Teddy. One Louis Harry survey, published in June, suggested Kennedy could add 5 million votes to the Democratic ticket: another, released this week, indicates that he turns the Humphrey-Nixon race today from a two-point squeaker to an eight-point landslide for Humphrey. Except in the South, where Texas Gov. John Connally is in some favor. Humphrey has heard almost no other names in his travels. And sometimes the advice has been discouragingly blunt. "To win," said one Wisconsin party pro, "Humphrey needs Nixon and Wallace—and Kennedy. Remove any one of those from the equation and he's finished."

'Just Visit': And so the Humphrey courtship began. Kennedy, in his grief, wasn't ready to talk politics with Hubert Humphrey or anyone else outside his circle. So Humphrey had to content himself with an amiably noncommittal chat with clan counselor Ted Sorensen and a presumably disheartening session with Teddy's brother-in-law Steve Smith (who was said to oppose Kennedy's running so strenuously that he vowed to sit out any Teddy campaign.) Whenever Kennedy was ready to speak face-to-face, the Humphrey people figured, he would signal it by showing up on the Senate floor—whereupon the Veep would stroll over and invite him someplace private where they could chat. "I would like to talk with him a little bit about how they feel, just kind of visit like neighbors," said Humphrey, considerably understating the matter, three days before Teddy issued his statement. But the Vice President saw no way to hurry that visit. "There is such a thing as good manners," he said, "and it even applies to politics—at least it does to me."

But manners didn't preclude the Veep from setting off a few public signals of his own. He took to invoking Bobby's name, dilating on whatever ideological ground they had in common, insisting that his differences with the Kennedy crowd were "not as wide as they have led themselves to believe." And, with the curious indirection that tradition imposes on the quadrennial mating ritual between standard-bearer and running mate, he let his wishes be known. "I have no reason to believe that," said Humphrey. "I hope it's not true."

Two-Step: The pursuit reached a crescendo last week, first with a two-a-day procession of endorsements of Teddy at the Governors Conference, then with Dick Daley's flat-out declaration: "I hope the convention will draft him." The governor's parade in Cincinnati notably included two swing-state Democrats (Illinois's Sam Shapiro, New Jersey's Richard Hughes) who were all for Teddy and two well-placed Southerners (South Carolina's Robert McNair, and Louisiana's John McKeithen who were ready to take him. To the Kennedy people, it looked like a daily pas de deux choreographed by the Humphrey camp to pressure Teddy onto the ticket, and it hastened the withdrawal statement.

But the fact was that neither the governors nor Dick Daly needed to take cues from anyone. Daley needed all the pulling power he could get at the top of the ballot to pull in a less-than-lustrous Illinois state ticket, and a good many of the Democratic governors were restive to the point of rebellion. One of them, indeed, circularized seven others at the conference, then—unsuccessfully, as it turned out—tried placing a phone call to Humphrey to deliver their joint message. "In a nice way," he recounted, "we were going to tell him he'd better get Ted Kennedy on the ticket… He'll need every bit of help he can get, and the most help he can get is Ted Kennedy."

The Dream: On the latter point, at least, the Hubertistas couldn't have agreed more—and, though Teddy's "personal reasons" were painfully obvious, some still believed their dream ticket might yet be made to come true. On the very eve of Kennedy's withdrawal statement, Daly announced that the senator had telephoned to say he was "considering" the mayor's draft proposal.  "That's good news," beamed one of Daly's subalterns.  "He didn't say no." And even when he did, some Humphrey loyalists dared hope that Teddy might yet yield on precisely the same question John Kennedy put to Lyndon Johnson in 1960: do you want Richard Nixon to be President? Said one Humphrey man hopefully, "No one has turned down the Vice Presidency, I don't think, in the history of the United States.

But neither has anyone ever had Ted Kennedy's reasons. His statement was by no means a complete guide to the considerations that took him out of the running; there were compelling political as well as personal factors. But his personal reasons were quite enough. He and Bobby had been close; Ted had helped talk his brother into the race this year against the advice of others in the family. Now Bobby was dead and Teddy was the last of the brothers, and, so some friends said, the air of trauma had not entirely lifted.

'Fighting Mad': Teddy's first reaction had been a rage so deep and black that, aboard the funeral train, the word went down the line, "Don't close headquarters yet—Teddy's fighting mad." Yet, laying every other consideration aside, few in the family circle could bear the idea of another Kennedy race—and another Kennedy funeral. "We all know," said one intimate, stating what few said aloud and almost all seemed to believe, "that there's someone out there right now oiling a gun to win his little place in history." Ted might master that fact of life, as Bobby did. But he has not yet found the heart even to pick up the threads of his own career. In the few days he has spent in Washington, he has stuck largely to his office, unable to face the welcomes and condolences of his colleagues. And there reportedly have been days when he lands in Hyannis and tells his chauffeur to drive around  for a while because he simply cannot face anyone—not even his family.

Yet The Compound and the Mira and the family have been his life since Bobby died. Early on, he flew Bobby's son Joe III to Spain for the summer; then, in the company of a changing cast of family and friends, he put to sea. Sometimes, he would pack the kids and even the dogs aboard and nose across the sound for a day trip to Nantucket; sometimes, with his wife Joan and a few intimates, he and the Mira would disappear for days at a time. On most of the cruises, he and his pals simply piloted by whim, clambering aboard in the morning, picking a likely harbor to point for, stopping en route at some isolated cove long enough for Teddy to lead a run along the beach. Once, they spent five days meandering the Maine coast, tying up nights at Gene Tunney's retreat, John's Island, or visiting Douglas Dillon or Tom Watson for drinks and dinner. And always, the atmosphere was determinedly buoyant. "Bobby never leaves your mind but you don't dwell on it," a shipmate said. "Kennedy's don't brood."

Yet there, and in The Compound, visitors marked in Teddy and uncommon tendency to go suddenly silent and withdraw into himself. Jackie, by contrast, seemed to friends more serene than she had been in years, and Ethel—tanned and only just budding visibly into pregnancy—was a picture of relentless gaiety, shepherding the kids to 7 o'clock mass every morning, filling her days with fun and friends, playing the best game of tennis in The Compound. But Teddy for a time seemed vaguely distant. He has come the de facto head of the family; he vanishes on long, private walks with Ethel or Jackie; he sees to all the kids—his three, Jack's two, Bobby's ten, divorcee Pat's four. Only lately and sporadically have chums seen the old Teddy. "He's teasing again and talking about the kids," said one. "He's tough as nails."

In Memoriam: But he palpably was not yet tough enough for serious politics; his absorbing interest instead has been devising a "living memorial" to Bobby—a program to carry out somehow his dead brother's will to help the wretched of the ghettos and the barrios and the reservations. Once, early in July, and again on a balmy, sun-drenched morning last week, he convened two dozen of the miscellaneous kinsmen, friends and retainers known collectively as "the Kennedys" at his summer place on Squaw Island, a quarter mile by causeway from The Compound, to brainstorm ideas. The talk ran mostly to scholarships for needy youngsters, or fellowships for talented slum workers. But the ideas were as various as the company (among the guests: IBM's Watson, Robert McNamara, Arthur Schlessinger, John Glenn, Richard Goodwin). Coats came off, then ties; drinks and a buffet lunch of clam chowder and salmon materialized; afterward, there was a dip in Bobby's old pool. Teddy mostly just sat and listened. "He is," said one guest, "terribly serious about this."

One sort of living memorial could, of course, be taking up the well-precedented Kennedy request for the presidency—and no judge of politics doubts that Teddy is a born contender for the White House one day. But now? "I doubt," said one counselor, "that given it 30 seconds' thought." Still, it could not be quite so lightly dismissed; ex-Gov. Mike DiSalle of Ohio, 60, looking for a star to hitch his comeback wagon to, vowed to place Teddy's name in the nomination, and—given the right mix of sorrow for the Kennedys and panic over Humphrey—anything might happen.  Far more serious was the mounting drum roll in the party for a Kennedy Vice Presidency. Could a man of Kennedy drive and ambition say no to a party in crisis and expect to be asked ever again? "They'll say he was off fooling around on a boat when they needed him," said one Kennedy man. "They won't forget."

The Women: So Teddy took his soundings—and found hardly anyone he trusted who thought he ought to say yes. Most of his contacts—the Kennedy women among them—thought he ought to put the family ahead of everything. "He's the only man there is now for Jackie, for Ethel, for Pat," said one friend, "and they rely on him." Not a few felt quite frankly that he wasn't ready—that it would be presumptuous of him to try even for the No. 2 spot, a heartbeat from the Presidency, at his age and with his experience. No one doubted his competence as a senator, but he has not, in six years, passed a line where people stop talking about his promise and start talking about his achievements. Accordingly, some of those he consulted advised that he should stay four, eight or even twelve years in the Senate, immerse himself more than he has so far in the great issues of the day and only then move for the Presidency.

The office of Vice President itself was not without its attractions: it made Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey what they are today. Presidents dating to Ike's day, moreover, have steadily enlarged the office, and Humphrey talks today of making his Veep a sort of "super Cabinet officer" riding herd on domestic programs. But such plans, as Humphrey himself knows from painful experience, have a way of going awry in practice. A Vice President "doesn't have any troops," ex-Vice President Johnson tells friends, and one of his staffers elaborates: "He has no independent power and the bureaucracy smells it. Any agency head knows it's better to talk to [Presidential staffers] Joe Califano or Harry McPherson if he wants to get to the President—not to Hubert."  And, as Humphrey knows more painfully still, Presidents have a way of smothering a Vice President's hard-won political identity. "It wouldn't be much fun for Teddy," said one adviser, "sitting in that gingerbread building and looking across at the big White House while the boss goes on about Vietnam."

And therein lay the real rub: could Teddy run in tandem with the man his brother died trying to overtake? Most of his counselors thought not. Tragedy has already scattered some of the Kennedy people among other candidates, but most shrug off Humphrey as too old-fashioned, McCarthy as too mean-spirited, and the Republicans too alien to claim their allegiance. Most of these urged on Teddy the course he finally chose: staying out of the race and using Humphrey on Vietnam and the cities. And some of the bitterly disaffected argued that the Humphrey Democracy was not worth saving anyway—that perhaps only four years of Nixon would ready the way for a Kennedy-style new politics. "Maybe it's not wait and figure that in four or eight years a whole new crop will control the party, and the old guys will be dead or out of office?"

World Play: Some hoped nevertheless that Teddy could delay last week's statement long enough to maximize his own bargaining power—and perhaps even to panic the GOP convention into dumping Nixon for Nelson Rockefeller. But the Teddy boom forced their hands and set them working to head off a party draft. Ethel had already passed the word that she wanted any convention eulogy for Bobby put over till after the nominations were in—a move that would keep it from triggering an emotional turn to Teddy. When Kennedy heard of her request, he nodded, "That's fine with me." Wording the withdrawal statement became an exercise in the rhetoric of absolutes. Several counselors chipped in language; the various versions were sifted, culled, collated; one was rejected because its punchline—"I do not seek higher office"—sounded too soft. The collective authors hoped they had made the statement draftproof. Had they? "That," said one, "is a good question."

The next move, in any event, was Humphrey's—and Teddy's statement set him contemplating his shopping list again. These, roughly in reverse preferential order, were said to be in the running for the No.2 spot:

* John Connally, 51, the retiring Texas governor, who spent his time at the Governors Conference promoting the view that a lifelong liberal like Humphrey ought to put a moderate—not a liberal—on the ticket. Connally happens to be a moderate, or moderately conservative, anyway. But the odds this year are against any Southerner, and particularly a Southerner from Texas. "People are sick of Texans," a home-state Democrat says dolefully. "I don't mean just Easterners are sick of Texans—I mean everybody."

* Edmund S. Muskie, 54, Maine's first popularly elected Democratic senator, who is closer to the Veep—if not the Veepship—than anyone else on the list. He is, beyond his thick friendship with Humphrey, a bright and able legislator, an ethnic Catholic and a pal of the Kennedys. But he has no base in the places Humphrey most needs help—the cities, the ghettos, the South. It took one Humphrey strategist just three words to dismiss Muskie: "Nobody knows him."

* Fred Harris, 37, a sharp, scrappy first-term Senator from Oklahoma, who is (with Minnesota's Sen. Fritz Mondale) co-managing the Humphrey campaign. Harris is a border-state moderate with no important enemies and –after a stint on President Johnson's riot commission—the beginnings of a national reputation. But beginnings are not enough, and Oklahoma's eight electoral votes are hardly more seductive than Maine's four. In sum, hardly anybody knows about him either.

* Sargent Shriver, 52, the perky, bubbly Kennedy-in-law who ran the Peace Corps and the war on poverty and who lately has been cutting a striking figure as U.S. Ambassador to Paris. The temptations are obvious: a member of That Family with appeal among the young and the ghetto poor. But, as one Frontiersman notes, the choice might offend the Kennedys by vaulting Shriver past Teddy to the top job in the family. And, to many voters, opting for Shriver might seem merely cynical—a move for a nickelplate replica of Teddy.

* Eugene McCarthy, 52, who—for all his bitter challenge to the Johnson-Humphrey Democracy—offers at once the least plausible and most attractive combination. Many Humphrey staffers despise him, call him "mean" and "petty" and the zealous children's crusades who helped bring McCarthy's campaign this far would look on an with Humphrey as something like a compact with the devil. Yet whatever Humphrey might lose through outrage, his strategists figure he would gain even more by binding the party's wounds and muting the explosive Vietnam issue. And the polls bear them out: Harris's latest suggest that McCarthy would add only a point less than Teddy Kennedy to a ticket headed by Humphrey.

Yet an alliance with McCarthy was still remote, and—though new suggestions like New Jersey Gov. Richard Hughes tumbled into the hopper—the alternatives were all second best. It was a perilous state in this year of the Vice Presidency—yet there seemed nowhere else for Hubert Humphrey to turn.

Unless, of course, he turns back to Edward Moore Kennedy. Humphrey, for the record, said when he read Teddy's statement that it "speaks for itself" and that the decision was "understandable." Yet some of his staffers privately refused to count it as final. "The scenario," said one, "would be simple. At or shortly before the convention, Humphrey would take Kennedy aside and tell him, 'I need you on my ticket. Will you take it?' No matter what's been said, history shows the man usually does." The history of this mercurial political year, moreover, shows that two men declared themselves out of the race for President—only to change their minds and run after all. One was Nelson Rockefeller. The other: Robert F. Kennedy.

Teddy's people, for their part, would not be surprised if the Humphrey forces even now tried to engineer a draft. They realize that, whatever his precautions, Teddy at Chicago may yet find it impossible to stay out. "When 5,000 delegates are acclaiming you," said one Kennedy aide, "how do you say no?" Teddy tried last week by delivering his answer in advance. But at the weekend he put to sea again aboard the Mira, nosing north and east along the Maine coast with a new problem to worry out: how to make sure that "no" remains the last word.

Join the Discussion