To be sure, there were other obstacles between Ted Kennedy and the presidency in 1980: the taint of the Chappaquiddick scandal; a terribly divided party; and a Republican opponent named Ronald Reagan. But when Kennedy's interview with Mudd aired in the fall of 1979, the impact was devastating, electric. Kennedy was running all right. But he was running with no message, no reason he could articulate for wanting to be president.
I don't know what Kennedy was thinking during our limo ride that day. But I will always suspect that – despite the battle he waged for the nomination in the months ahead – on that August morning Kennedy knew something: The campaign was over. His heart just wasn't in it. He knew the game was up.
When we arrived at the dock that morning, I tried to coax Kennedy to recreate an iconic pose his brothers had struck for LIFE. Would he take off his shoes and walk along the beach while photographer Rentmeester snapped pictures? (A LIFE cover had captured Bobby skipping at the water's edge, his footprints trailing in the sand.) "I don't think I want to do that," Kennedy protested.
It wasn't that he thought such poses would feel staged. It was that he wanted to be his own man. "My brothers were associated with those images," he said. Kennedy posed for a few pictures on the dock. And with that, he clambered into the sailboat.
We watched as the lines were cast off, the sails flapped in the breeze and the boat edged away. Ted Kennedy's ill-fated campaign had just begun. And as his boat disappeared into the harbor, a secret service boat trailed in its wake.
Chris Whipple is creator and senior producer of the ABC News series "What Would You Do?"