The Ted Kennedy Political Career, 1962-2009: A Campaign Button Perspective

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Sen. Edward Kennedy, first elected in 1962, died late last night at the age of 77. He had been suffering from brain cancer, which was first diagnosed in May 2008.

Kennedy served longer in the Senate than anyone else other than Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Strom Thurmond (D/R-SC).

Here's a quick look at his political career, as told in campaign buttons.

FIRST ROW:

(1) Kennedy was too young to succeed his brother, President-elect John Kennedy, in the Senate after the 1960 election. So JFK had the lame-duck governor of Massachusetts, Foster Furcolo (D), appoint a Kennedy college pal, Benjamin Smith II, as a caretaker senator until 1962, when Ted was old enough to run. In '62 he easily defeated Ed McCormack, the nephew of House Speaker John McCormack, in the Democratic primary, and beat George Cabot Lodge, the son of former Sen. (and 1952 JFK opponent) Henry Cabot Lodge, in the general election.

(2) After Bobby's assassination, there was a move to draft Ted for president at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Kennedy turned down all entreaties.

(3) With Jack and now Bobby killed by assassins' bullets, much attention (and pressure) was placed on the third Kennedy brother.

SECOND ROW:

(1) Kennedy was clearly on the rise in the Senate, and in early 1969 he was elected Democratic majority whip, toppling Russell Long (D-LA). But the accident later that summer off Chappaquiddick Island — where the car Kennedy was driving plunged off a bridge and the female passenger in his car, Mary Jo Kopechne, was left to drown as Kennedy swam to safety — irreparably damaged his political standing. Kennedy said his actions at the time were "indefensible."

(2) Kennedy still remained popular at home. He ran for re-election a year after Chappaquiddick and won with 62 percent of the vote. But his standing in the Senate suffered; he was ousted as majority whip by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) in 1971.

(3) Kennedy was still the presidential dream candidate of many Democrats. They wanted him to run in 1972 ...

(4) And 1976. But he kept saying no.

THIRD ROW:

(1) Kennedy finally did run, in 1980. Ironically, the one time he decided to run it was a challenge of a sitting president of his own party, Jimmy Carter. But his effort was hampered from the beginning. In a memorable 1979 interview with CBS' Roger Mudd, Kennedy had difficulty articulating why he was running. He was also at a disadvantage when Iranians took 53 Americans hostage in Tehran, and many Americans rallied behind Carter, who refused to debate Kennedy or overtly campaign during the crisis. But Kennedy gave a memorable concession speech at the Democratic convention that summer in New York City (the famous "dream shall never die" speech).

(2) His presidential aspirations finally put aside, Kennedy focused instead on being a great legislator. And he was. Plus, he was unbeatable at home: 61% in '82, 65% in '88, 58% (against Mitt Romney) in '94, 73% in 2000, and 69% in '06.

(3) Diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2008, he nonetheless brought delegates to their feet (and tears to their eyes) with a dramatic appearance at that year's Democratic convention in Denver. Delegates there nominated Sen. Barack Obama for president, the candidate Kennedy endorsed for the nomination early in the process in his battle against Hillary Clinton. It proved to be a most valuable endorsement.

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