You would think the Carter people would be terribly upset that Teddy Kennedy is getting into the presidential race. Not all of them. One astute Carter supporter told me:
"This is the best thing that could have happened to us."
"Well, look what was happening before Teddy went to see his mother, and got her permission to run. Carter was sinking in the polls -- all the Washington pundits were writing him off, and the cry in the land was 'Anybody But Carter.' We were very upset by all this, but we couldn't do anything about it. We had Rafshooned the president for a year, and it got us nowhere. Money was drying up and many of us were prepared to start working on the Carter presidential library in Plains, Ga. Then Teddy decided he had to save the country and we were off and running."
"But you had Jerry Brown to run against," I said.
"At the beginning we thought that would be sufficient, but Brown blew it and beating him meant nothing. We're very disappointed in Gov. Brown. We were hoping he would give us more opposition."
"Are you trying to tell me that you Carter people are not worried about Kennedy?"
"Well, you always have to be worried about a Kennedy," he said. "But you must be very pragmatic in politics. Before Teddy, we were faced with a terrible prospect. Carter had to run against himself and you can imagine what that meant. Last time he ran against Washington, and that's how he got elected. The president wanted to do it again, but we explain to him there were some people in the country who thought he was part of the problem. We had no issue until Teddy decided to make his move."
"When you spell it out that way it does make sense."
"We couldn't have planned it better if we had wanted to. We can now go to people who never cared much for the Kennedy's and say, 'If you don't give us money, Teddy will take away your three martini lunch.' That's all it usually takes."
"I thought Carter was against the three martini lunch, too."
"He is, but as with most things no one pays any attention to him. If Teddy wants to do away with the lunches people will start taking it seriously."
"I do," I admitted.
"The beauty of it all that now that Teddy is in the race the media are all excited. When Carter had no opposition it was hard to get him on page 19. Now when Teddy makes a speech the media expects Carter to answer him. Then they expect Teddy to come back and answer him. If Carter won't respond Rosalynn will. The contest between the two of them has wiped out all the Republican candidates.
"The Republican campaign managers are going up the wall trying to get space for their people. The media are treating the Carter-Kennedy confrontation like the Super Bowl. You can't believe what it's done for the morale of our people."
"I feel sorry for the Republicans. It looked for a while as if the big dogfight would be in their party. Let me ask you something. Suppose Teddy gets the nominaton? Won't that make you feel bad?"
"Not as bad as if Carters got the Democratic nomination and got clobbered by the Republicans. If Teddy beats us at least we can go down with dignity. But without Kennedy, Carter could have been beaten by himself -- and that's a terrible way to lose."