WASHINGTON – Sen. Ted Kennedy (search), a liberal's liberal, is finding that the United States has moved to the right since he made his bid to take on the Republican presidential candidate in 1980, an election that ushered in the Reagan Revolution.
Now, some political analysts say he is out of step with several of the issues that have strong support across party lines.
"The general trend of public opinion and public policy in the country has been away from bureaucracy and towards markets, away from the reliance on big governments and towards more of a reliance on personal choice," said U.S. News & World Report Senior Writer Michael Barone.
In the mid-1990s, Kennedy opposed welfare reform (search), labeling it "legislative child abuse." It's now regarded as a social policy success. The Massachusetts senator also opposed Republican tax cuts for married couples and the child tax credit, but reversed course when 2004 presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, also from Massachusetts, endorsed them during the campaign.
"Ted Kennedy has been a man working against his times," Barone said.
For most politicians, losing a bid for the White House marks the end of influence. For Kennedy, it marked a new beginning.
"Who knows what he might have done had he become president, but he's certainly been a more important figure in the country than several of the people who were president while he was in the Senate," said New York Times Washington correspondent Adam Clymer.
Liberals remain devoted to Kennedy, calling him the first line of defense against reactionary Republicans. Conservatives scorn Kennedy for the same reason. All agree that at age 72, Kennedy remains a vital force in American politics.
"He is a very active, hard-working and often effective United States senator in going after the causes he believes in," Barone said.
Kennedy is already reshaping the party's message and tactics. Aides say Kennedy, not Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, first softened Democratic rhetoric on abortion (search).
"There is a way America can find common ground on this issue. Surely, we can all agree that abortion should be rare and that we should do all we can to help women avoid the need to face that decision," he said in a January speech.
Kennedy was also the first to ask Evangelical progressive Jim Wallis (search) to teach Democrats how to relate policy to religious faith.
"He understands how America is changing. He's always nimble, always willing to see a new experience and move towards it," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Click in the box near the top of the page to watch a report by FOX News' Major Garrett.