At the White House these days, the briefest mention of the name "Kennedy" evokes angry comments about "dividing the party" and "sore losers." But at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's congressional colleagues seem to be taking a much more indulgent view of his continued race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
For the past two weeks, Kennedy has been talking to Democrats in both houses about his determination to keep running despite the nearly impossible odds against him. And while not many colleagues are actively encouraging him to stay in the race, not many are pressuring him to get out, either.
"The pressure has been virtually neglible," says a close Kennedy adviser. "People on the Hill are giving him a lot of breathing space. The tone of the thing, from [House Speaker] Tip O'Neill to [Senate Majority Leader] Bobby Byrd and just about everybody, is that if he wants to keep running, that's fine with them."
Kennedy seems to be getting a similar reaction -- "Whatever you want to do, Ted" -- from union leaders and other liberal Democrats nationwide who have been the heart of his constituency.
William Holayter, political director of the International Association of Machinists, was asked the other day if he knew why Kennedy was still running. m
"We're not sure ourselves," Holayter replied. ". . . We may go down in flames, but we're with him until the end."
Kennedy heard essentially the same thing last week in a meeting with representatives of 19 national unions. "Nobody was pounding the table and pleading him to keep running," says one labor participant. "But when he said he was still running, we all said we were going to be with him."
There are some Democrats on Capitol Hill who have told Kennedy that he might endanger the party's chances in the presidential and congressional elections this fall by keeping up his liberal attacks on President Carter for two more months. But even they do not seem to be pushing hard for a Kennedy withdrawal.
Rep. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), a Kennedy loyalist since before the senator entered the presidential fray last fall, has been saying that Kennedy's race for the nomination "is over," and that a continued Kennedy challenge might harm some Democratic incumbents this fall. But Simon also says he will support a Kennedy candidacy as long as there is one.
Last week, Kennedy met for a half-hour with O'Neill. Those who have talked to the House speaker about the race say they are sure he must have warned Kennedy that continuing the contest will hurt the Democratic party. But if the speaker did pass that warning, he did so in such mild terms that it didn't take. Kennedy emerged from the session and told his staff that O'Neill had brought no pressure on him whatsoever to quit the race.
Even if the people like O'Neill were pressuring Kennedy, it is not clear that they would have much impact. Rep. Richard Ottinger (D-N.Y.), another strong Kennedy backer, says he doesn't think anybody could drive the challenger out of the race now.
"Ted's had so many knocks at this point I think he's immune," Ottinger said.
Byrd, who probably reflects the views of the Democratic "establishment" in Congress as well as anyone, is one of those who seems to be purposely avoiding telling Kennedy what to do.
In a news conference on June 7, just after the last of the Democratic primaries when most politicians were conceding the nomination to Carter, the Senate majority leader said he still was unwilling to count Kennedy out. By June 14, Byrd had concluded that Carter could be considered "the apparent nominee."
But Byrd went on to say, "I see no disadvantages for the Democratic Party in a continued Kennedy candidacy."
Kennedy's campaign has been throttled down on every level in the past two weeks, but there are still about 50 paid workers at the headquarters here and 25 others engaged in a low-key delegate-hunting operation around the country.
But Carter is taking no chances that Kennedy will steal his delegates. CBS News reported last night that all identified Carter delegates have been invited to a series of receptions at the White House over the next month.
The whirlwind coast-to-coast travel that marked the campaign during the primaries has given way to a leisurely schedule of two or three speeches per week. Still, the candidate's tentative schedule for the next month includes a half-dozen fund-raisers around the country and speeches before unions, senior citizens, and other groups that represent what Kennedy considers his constituency.
And the rhetoric -- the tough, no-compromise liberal message about Carter's failures -- is still that of an all-out challenger for the nomination.
"I will stay in this race," Kennedy said last weekend, "because I have seen too many people trapped in unemployment lines, strapped by inflation, left without health care, and limited by continuing discrimination. They cannot walk away from their plight . . . and I cannot walk away from this campaign."