Ted Kennedy had been asked to take his brother's place at the 1968 Democratic Convention and had refused. He ran for Senate Majority Whip in 1969, however, and many thought that he was going to use that as a platform for 1972. But then came the notorious Chappaquiddick incident, in which Kennedy drove his car into a body of water and abandoned his female passenger, trapped in the car, who apparently survived for as long as twenty minutes before drowning, while Kennedy went about his business without informing anyone.
Kennedy refused to run in 1972, and again in 1976. Many suspected that Chappaquiddick had destroyed any ability he had to win on a national level. However, in the summer of 1979, he consulted with his family, and that fall, he let it leak out that because of Carter's failings, 1980 might indeed be the year. Gallup had him beating the president by over two to one.
Kennedy's official announcement was scheduled for early November. There was a prime time interview with CBS's Roger Mudd and it was a minor disaster. Kennedy flubbed a number of the questions and couldn't exactly explain why he was running, and the polls, which showed him leading the President by 58-25 in August now had him ahead 49-39. Then the hostages were taken in Tehran, Iran and the bottom fell out of the Kennedy campaign.
Carter's approval ratings jumped in the 60-percent range in some polls, due to a "rally `round the flag" effect and an appreciation of Carter's calm handling of the crisis. Kennedy was suddenly left far behind. Carter beat Kennedy decisively in Iowa and New Hampshire. Carter decisively defeated Kennedy everywhere except Massachusetts, until impatience began to build with the President's strategy on Iran. When the later primaries in New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut came around, it was Kennedy who won largely due to such impatience.
Carter was still able to maintain a substantial lead even after Kennedy swept the last batch of primaries in June. Despite this, Kennedy refused to drop out, and the 1980 Democratic National Convention was one of the nastiest on record. On the penultimate day, Kennedy conceded the nomination and called for a more liberal party platform in what many saw as the best speech of his career. On the platform on the final day, Kennedy for the most part ignored Carter.
The delegate tally at the convention was in part:
Jimmy Carter - 2,129.02
Ted Kennedy - 1,150.48
14 others - 66.5