WASHINGTON (CNN) - After a losing presidential campaign, it became clear to Edward "Ted" Kennedy that his true calling was to help shape the country's political future from the U.S. Senate.
The turning point came in 1980 when Kennedy unsuccessfully challenged President Carter in the Democratic primaries.
But Kennedy's loss was not necessarily such a bad thing, a top political historian notes.
"I think partly it related to that time when he, after 1980, he realized that he was not going to be president of the United States ... and that being a United States senator was a pretty important and powerful job in which he could do good," said Stephen Hess, author of "America's Political Dynasties."
Kennedy, 77, had represented Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate since his 1962 election when he was chosen to finish the unexpired Senate term of his brother, John F. Kennedy, who was elected president in 1960. The Massachusetts governor appointed Democrat Benjamin A. Smith to the seat following John Kennedy's presidential win.
Political observers have said that Smith was a mere seat warmer until Ted Kennedy turned 30 - the required age to become a U.S. senator.
"It's quite remarkable for a person who got there in 1962 at age 30 with no greater qualification for the office than his brother was president of the United States and the voters of Massachusetts respected that name," Hess said.