EDWARD KENNEDY ought to be breathing a little easier these days.
A storm of negative publicity over the United States senator's personal behavior is waning, and now the veteran Massachusetts Democrat can look forward to working with a Democratic administration to pass liberal legislation so close to his heart.
But Senator Kennedy may not have time to savor the moment. Instead, he's busy preparing for what could be the most challenging reelection campaign of his 32-year career in the Senate.
Already, he has hired new staff, built up a $1 million war chest, and met with Massachusetts Democratic Party officials to plot strategy for the November 1994 election.
"As someone who has observed him for innumerable years, I've never seen this much coordinated activity this early," says Michael Goldman, a Boston-based Democratic consultant. "Here it is, [nearly] April 1993 and he has already lined [things] up and is already talking about a 16-month reelection."
The senator may have been spurred into action by several opinion polls. For instance, in a February survey conducted by KRC Communications Research of Newton, Mass., 40 percent of the respondents said they viewed the senator favorably, while 41 said they had an unfavorable impression of him.
"For someone who is an incumbent with as many years in office as he has had, that really bodes poorly for his chances of reelection," says Gene Hartigan, executive director of the Massachusetts Republican Party.
Kennedy's relatively high unfavorable rating is due primarily to problems in his personal life. Although he seems to have put memories of Chappaquidick to rest, Kennedy's reputation suffered last year during the Palm Beach rape trial of his nephew, William Kennedy Smith, who was later acquitted.