New York — Did Sen. Edward M. Kennedy get what he wanted out of his bid for the presidential nomination? The question is on the minds and tongues of delegates, political leaders, and members of the press assembled here for the Democratic National convention.
Obviously the senator didn't reach his ultimate goal, but sources close to Mr. Kennedy have long said that he hoped that the campaign would help him shed his chief political liability -- what is usually referred to as the "character issue."
Some savvy observers, like Rep. Morris K. Udall of Arizona, the keynote speaker here, contend that the senator may be viewed as a presidential candidate in 1984 who has been "purified" by the political crucible of the 1980 campaign.
"People have been able to let off steam on that issue," he told a breakfast group of reporters here. "They've hit him hard, again and again. And now they have got it ot of their system and probably won't using it against him again."
Other equally knowledgeable Democrats have expressed what seems to be a more persuasive opinion: that if Kennedy runs for president in 1984, or any time thereafter, his candidacy will remain flawed by the Chappaquiddick incident and charges about improprieties in his private life.
"Are you saying," a reporter asked Congressman Udall, "that a scandal only hurts a candidate for one campaign?" Udall replied that he through this was true -- at least in Kennedy's case.
Scandals have often ended political careers. The really amazing thing about this year's Kennedy challenge was that he was able to mount it at all.
One could argue (and this argument is often expressed by political observers) that had the senator not been a Kennedy, his career would have ended abruptly at Dike Bridge -- that he would never have been re-elected to the Senate, let alone become a candidate for president.
This aside, there seems little doubt that Kennedy did accomplish some things important to him and his future during his presidential campaign:
* He did win a new respect and credibility within the ranks of his party which will enable him to somewhat of a party statesman.
While he may not have "purified" himself enough for voters in general -- or for most Democrats, for that matter -- to be accepted as president, he has by his strong political performance made certain that he will be one of the most important party voices for years to come.
* The anti-kennedy feeling that was so evident during the campaign has softened.
Many Americans who had felt they would never forgive the senator for Chappaquiddick and for what they are convinced happened there seem more willing now to let bygones be bygones -- as long as Kennedy forgets about being president.
It was widely noted that the senator responded to criticism on Chappadquiddick and his private life in a graceful way during the campaign -- gracefully enough to quiet down and even lessen the questions on this general subject.
However, those close to Kennedy are saying he believes he has done even more than quiet critics. These insiders say the senator believes that he now has put the "character" issue largely behind him and has cleared the way to the nomination and the presidency in 1984.
It is said that a major reason for Kennedy's insistence on carrying his challenge onto the convention floor was to help him gain national TV attention as part of his continuing presidential ambitions.