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Known as the “Lion of the Senate,” Democrat Ted Kennedy was a staunch liberal who was elected to Congress 9 times, spearheading many legislative reforms.
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He specifically debated the merits of the military draft, and decried the failure of the United States to provide for the victims of the war. Kennedy visited South Vietnam after the disastrous Tet Offensive, in which North Vietnamese regulars and Viet Cong insurgents simultaneously attacked more than 100 South Vietnamese cities. Kennedy stepped up his criticism,
yet managed to stay on good terms with the Democratic administration of President Lyndon Johnson.
Kennedy encountered family tragedy again when his closest brother, Robert, was assassinated in 1968 during his presidential campaign. After Robert's death, Ted became the standard-bearer of the Kennedy clan. In 1969, he became the youngest-ever majority whip in the U.S. Senate, and an early front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. A year later, on the night of July 18, 1969, he accidentally drove his car off an unmarked bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, near Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. His companion in the car, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned. A judge later found Ted Kennedy guilty of leaving the scene of an accident.
Kennedy was reelected to the Senate in 1970 despite the scandal, but the incident dogged his subsequent political career and discouraged him from running for president in 1972 and 1976. In 1980, however, Kennedy decided to launch a presidential campaign against Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter. Kennedy felt Carter's difficult first term threatened to give control of the government to the Republicans, and the senator was unafraid of publicly criticizing the president. He vowed, however, to support Carter if he happened to win in the presidential primaries. Kennedy won only 10 of the primaries. At the 1980 Democratic National Convention, Kennedy conceded his presidential bid, but gave a hallmark convention speech.
As the 1980s transpired, President Ronald Reagan's sweeping changes of government gained a stronghold on both the presidency and Congress. Ted Kennedy's liberalism soon lost favor with many mainstream Democrats. Those years proved to be difficult for Kennedy as he grappled with minority party status and wrestled with his ideological nemesis, Ronald Reagan.
Kennedy also faced trouble in his personal life, as accusations of philandering and alcohol abuse surfaced. In 1982, after 24 years of turbulent marriage, he and wife Joan Bennett Kennedy divorced. In spite of his private struggles, Kennedy won reelection to the Senate in 1982 and again in 1988. In 1992 he remarried—this time to Washington, D.C., lawyer Victoria Reggie—and credits his recovery to his new relationship. Together the couple had two more children: Curran and Caroline Raclin.
With the Democratic victory of Bill Clinton for president in 1992, Ted Kennedy became once again an influential legislator supporting health-care reform. He was an author of the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which allows those who change or lose their job to maintain health insurance and protects the privacy of patient information.
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There's no such thing as royalty in the United States, but if anyone has ever come close to that level, it's the Kennedy family. For 64 years, Washington had at least one Kennedy in public office. Descended from Irish Catholics who fled the potato famine, the family has a strong tradition in the Democratic party, the most prominent member being President John F. Kennedy. In addition to fame and political power, the Kennedy clan has had more than its fair share of tragedy—several members of the family have died in accidents and assassinations, in what's been called the "Kennedy curse."
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