Washington — There are days when Senator Kennedy wants the nomination very much. There are other days when his desire to be president simply isn't there. And those who know the senator well indicate that his "down" days, his days of discouragement, are growing, and that his zest for the campaign is very much on the ebb now.
Reporters who viewed the senator up close the other morning at his home overlooking the Potomac in nearby Mclean, Virginia, saw the somber Ted Kennedy. He was still talking about continuing his quest no matter what happened in Illinois and New York and beyond. But the impression he gave was of a candidate who has lost the spring in his step.
The occasion was only two mornings after the senator had lost his close friend Allard Lowenstein. So what we were seeing was partly an expression of grief.
But, according to one reporter who had earlier talked at length with Kennedy, the senator was also suffering from the reminders in the killing of Mr. Lowenstein of the assassinations of his brothers. "Kennedy still gets threats," this reporter said."He's sobered by the reminder of the possibility of what could happen to him."
Add this to the bad news from the primaries, and it is understandable that Senator Kennedy appears more and more (at least on his "down" days) to be going through the motions of running.
His answers to the reporters' questions were well expressed. There was not even an echo of the inarticulate Kennedy that came through in some of his TV performances earlier.
But there was a note of something less than hope in what the senator had to say. In fact, he said he might be willing to abandon his full-scale pursuit of the nomination if the President endorsed his call for a wage-price freeze. "I would go back to the Senate," he said "and work intensively" for that program regardless of "the ramifications on the schedule of my campaign."
Was he talking about possibly dropping out? No, he said. He would continue somehow. His was in a unique position, he said. Even if funds ran out, he could go on and command audiences and present his position. Here, of course, he meant that because he was who he was he could still, on his own, draw audiences even if his campaign fell into disarray.
What he kept saying in one way or another was that it was his task to save the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. He implied that the race now was a struggle for the soul of the party.
Thus Kennedy sounded much more like a champion of a cause as he talked to a group of reporters over brunch than he did a politician thirsting for the presidency. In this vein the senator said that the "standard of the Democratic Party is at stake" in his current struggle -- "whether it continues to be concerned with social justice and economic equity." And, because of his conviction that Carter is leading the party toward Republican conservatism, he refused, under repeated questioning, to say whether he would support the President if he was renominated.
Some observers have said that Kennedy really never wanted to run for president -- that he has only been responding to family and party expectations.
That theory is too simple. Kennedy obviously has days when he wants to be in the White House -- and he wants it very much when he is in that mood. But the questions about Chappaquiddick have not lessened as he had anticipated. Instead , as the campaign goes on, they have increased.
He's losing, moreover. He hadn't anticipated that, no at all. He had believed assessments that he would knock the President out of the race quite easily.
And now there is the reminder of the hazards that a Kennedy is seen to face when seeking or occupying the presidency.
So -- again quite understandably -- the senator is taking another and quite sober look at the trail ahead.