Washington — Senator Kennedy's persistence in staying in the presidential race continues to be the subject of much speculation. Some observers say he simply wants the convention limelight.
Others say he feels he has a commitment to take the liberal cause forward.
Still others are saying the senator's intentions are simply to cause so much divisiveness that it will ensure the defeat of President Carter in the fall.
However, sources close to Senator Kennedy provide another interpretation of his unwillingness to give up. "A lost of people aren't going to believe this," said one such source. "But he honestly thinks there is a chance -- even though quite remote and unlikely -- that he still might get the nomination.
"He thinks that something might happen -- sometimes that would make Carter a completely unpalatable choice. And he wants to be right there in the wings, still in contention, so that he can claim the nomination if that unlikely event occurs."
Another Kennedy source puts it this way: "Don't forget that Ted has seen so much in his own life and the lives of his brothers that have, quite suddenly, turned the tide of events. He believes that things not only can happen -- but that they do happen. That's why he hangs in there."
In any event, this is what Mr. Kennedy is telling is associates. And who can say that an old pool like the senator wouldn't have this reason for staying in there -- never giving up as long as even a little daylight remains?
But as a veteran politician, Senator Kennedy also is being reminded these days -- by his friends in Congress as well as by the Carter camp -- that if he continues to be irreconcilable he may hurt his own future as well as this fall's Carter campaign.
One congressman whose ideology is close to Senator Kennedy's puts it this way: "I've told Ted that he better get out soon before he gets the reputation of being a spoiler. If he spoils this for Carter, he can also spoin it for himself. Who's ever going to nominate a spoiler for president -- someone who has contributed to the loss of an incumbent Democratic president?"
The President's political spokesman, Robert Strauss, is beginning to get upset over Senator Kennedy's unwillingness to mend fences. Mr. Strauss has been unable to get the senator to answer his phone. He's a bit angry about it.So is the President -- privately.
There has been some movement toward reconciliation between Kennedy and Carter forces. Mr. Strauss has had several conersations and get-togethers with Paul Kirk, his opposite number in the Kennedy organization.
But the movement toward burying the hatchet ended abruptly when the President's team provided little "give" to the Kennedy people in putting the platform together.
The Kennedy representatives on this platform-shaping committee made it clear from the outset that they were in no mood to compromise, even slightly.
Then the senator himself has publicly reiterated his intention to take his fight -- for his view on the platform and his hopes for winning the nomination -- to the convention.
And now the Kennedy delegates, stirred by the senator's zest for battle, are no longer subsiding and beginning to move toward Carter -- as they were after the final primaries.
Instead, reporters who talk to these delegates find increasing numbers of them ready to carry their defiance of Mr. Carter to the bitter end -- no matter what this may cost the Democrats in the fall election.
In recent days Kennedy has indicated he might support the President if Carter came up with a massive, big-spending jobs program the senator liked. But this is a demand with which the President has indicated he has no intention of complying. Therefore the two antagonists still remain far apart.
So a stormy and divisive convention fight looms -- where a few weeks ago reconciliation seemed inevitable.