Washington — Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, knee-deep in another try at the presidency since shortly after the last election, is resting his hopes on two assumptions: 1. That he has put Chappaquiddick behind him politically by running in 1980.
His advisers are telling him that the media completely exhausted that subject last year and as a result, as one Kennedy backer puts it, "will not rehash that incident all over again. People are weary of hearing about Chappaquiddick," he said.
2. That the Reagan economic program will fall short of public expectations. The Kennedy people see the strong possibility that public patience with Reagan economics will be running him next year -- and that voters once again will be looking to the Democratic Party for a solution.
But while these assumptions are basic to the Kennedy race in 1984, the Massachusetts senator's commitment to running seems irreversible -- whether Chappaquiddick surfaces again or whether Reagan is riding high or low.
"Kennedy is running," one longtime friend of the senator said. "He has to run now. He can't sit out 1984. By 1988 he could be completely out of it -- and in no position to make the race."
Kennedy wants to win big in his 1982 Senate race to reinforce his bid the presidency.But, again, political observers reached by this reporter believe the senator will continue to seek the presidential nomination even if his victory next year is an unimpressive one.
At this point, it seems that the senator will be easily reelected simply because the Republicans have been unable to come up with a formidable opponent.
Earlier, there was some speculation that many Massachusetts voters would drop away from supporting Kennedy because of displeasure with his legal separation from his wife.
But now the consensus among journalists and other observers is that Kennedy isn't being damaged too much by that issue -- at least not enough to make him vulnerable to defeat.
The senator's preoccupation with seeking the presidency was in evidence at the recent lawn parties he hosted at Hyannisport, Mass.
In the past, Kennedy has invited Massachusetts reporters to such functions. But this year, for the first time, invitations also went out to a number of national reporters, those who covered the Kennedy presidential race in 1980 and would be expected to cover the next presidential campaign.