43rd Anniversary: What if Chappaquiddick Never Happened?

On this date in 1969, a car driven by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) plunged off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island near Martha’s Vineyard. Kennedy’s 28 year old passenger Mary Jo Kopechne died by drowning.
The Senator waited 10 hours before reporting the accident, but was never able to give a convincing explanation of his strange behavior. His license was suspended for six months. At the time of the incident, Kennedy was the nation’s most prominent potential Democratic presidential candidate.
If it had not happened, he may have still passed on a 1972 campaign against President Richard Nixon. He was only 40 that year. 1976 would have been a more realistic time for him, and it was an excellent year for Democrats.
When he did try to deny Jimmy Carter’s 1980 renomination, the Chappaquiddick incident haunted him and helped destroyed his chances. Writing in his book “True Compass,” which was published a week after his death, Kennedy described his actions as “inexcusable” and said that at the time he was afraid, overwhelmed “and made terrible decisions.”
Kennedy said he had to live with the guilt of his actions for four decades but that Miss Kopechne’s family had to endure far worse. “Atonement is a process that never ends,” he wrote.
The news media was relatively easy on Kennedy in 1969, and he was not forced to answer many difficult questions. That would not be allowed today. Kennedy’s popularity obviously declined, but even after Chappaquiddick, he still had a 58% approval rating in 1969, and was easily reelected in 1970

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