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WASHINGTON - Ted Kennedy was three sheets to the wind and Orrin Hatch needed a favor, as Hatch recalls it.

A former staffer wanted the conservative Utah senator and Kennedy, the liberal lion of Massachusetts, to speak to a group of Mormon missionaries in Boston. Late one night, Hatch approached Kennedy, who had been tipping the bottle with Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut.

"How are ya doin'?" Kennedy said, patting Hatch on the back.

"Fine, fine," Hatch replied, then made his pitch for the missionary event.

"Done," Kennedy said, with an expansive swoop of his hand.

And would he help get famed Faneuil Hall for the event? "Done," Kennedy said.

The next day, Hatch presented a letter to the Massachusetts senator confirming the conversation.

"Orrin," said a worried Kennedy, "what else did I agree to?"

"This is just letter No. 1," Hatch responded.

They are the Odd Couple of the U.S. Senate: Kennedy and Hatch. Liberal and conservative. Catholic and Mormon.Whiskey and water.

And they call each other friends.

Strange allies: Abnormal relationships abound in this company town, but the friendship between two of the Senate's stalwarts is one of the more peculiar. It may not seem a warm relationship at times, say when Kennedy is battling a Bush judicial nominee or Hatch is ranting about the liberal left-wingers. But behind the scenes, away from C-SPAN cameras, the two are buddies.

"We're called the Odd Couple, and I think it is odd to have the leading conservative and the leading liberal as friends," says Hatch. "Both of us have gone out of our ways to develop a relationship that is good for our states and the country."

The long-serving duo - Hatch has been in the Senate 29 years and Kennedy 43 years - have worked on landmark legislation, such as the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, recently heralded for ensuring millions of kids in low-income families have health-care coverage.

Kennedy jokes that the two often don't know what they are agreeing to.

"When we're on the same platform, when we are co-sponsors of legislation, usually one of us hasn't read it," Kennedy quips.

The pair does come together often, though. In the past five Congresses and the first session of the 109th, Hatch and Kennedy have co-sponsored 410 bills and resolutions. Hatch and Sen. Bob Bennett, his Utah Republican colleague, have co-sponsored 475 in that time, and Hatch and Majority Leader Bill Frist have come together on 332 bills and resolutions.

Not that either Hatch or Kennedy is shirking party loyalty. A recent report by Congressional Quarterly gave Kennedy a 100 percent party support ranking; Hatch backed his party 95.6 percent of the time.

Bridging the partisan divide: At a time when a fistfight nearly broke out in the House and senators have discussed the "nuclear option" on judicial filibusters, having the occasional Kennedy-Hatch team is a welcome sight, say observers on both sides.

"Now that things in the Senate are so polarized, the fact that they can call each other, or get together on a bill, is increasingly rare to see," says Mary Beth Cahill, Kennedy's former chief of staff who ran Sen. John Kerry's presidential election in 2004. "It's been very good for the country."

Agreed, says former Sen. Jake Garn, a Utah Republican who served with Hatch for 16 years.

"It has become, in my opinion, so overly partisan and particularly nasty" in Washington, Garn says. "It is helpful to be friends and not base your friends on their political philosophy or their religion. There're a lot of things that you can get done with those friendships and those contacts with the other side."

And Hatch and Kennedy have.

The two worked to pass the first research bill on AIDS and bills allowing more religious liberties.

They also collaborated on the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Kennedy, according to Hatch, was instrumental in getting legislation passed to compensate residents exposed to radiation from atomic testing. Kennedy, when Democrats ruled the Senate, also allowed Hatch to get a hearing on a dietary supplement law that Kennedy opposed. Hatch's bill eventually passed Congress.

"Ted Kennedy has a remarkable ability to team up with folks on the other side of the aisle when he advances many of his initiatives, particularly in the health care area," says former Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis, a past Massachusetts governor.

"Part of it is that his colleagues have a lot of respect for him and the quality of his staff, regardless of ideology. Part of it is that he is smart enough to understand that, particularly if your party is in the minority in Congress, you must team up with the other side."

Squabbling brothers: The relationship between Kennedy and Hatch blossomed in the late 1970s when the two served on the Senate's Labor and Human Resources Committee and boomed when the two started on the Judiciary Committee, where they remain polar opposites.

"We developed a relationship at a different time in terms of the Senate," Kennedy said. "And the way senators sort of dealt with each other and got along with each other was a higher degree of comity in those days. And I think that's served us well and has continued and gone through even the more divisive period that we find ourselves in now."

In 1991, the media was after Kennedy and he needed a friend.

Kennedy's nephew, William Kennedy Smith, had been charged with raping a woman he met at a nightclub with his uncle. The elder Kennedy was taking heat for inviting his nephews out to a bar that night, and he came to Hatch asking for help.

Hatch agreed to defend Kennedy to reporters, but first he wanted to chat.

"I thought, you know, 'He's really vulnerable.' " Hatch said on CBS' "60 Minutes" in 1998. "That's when I said, 'Now, Ted, it's time for you to grow up and quit acting like a teenager.' I said, 'You know what you've got to do, don't you?' I said, 'You've got to quit drinking.' And I have to say he . . . looked very stunned, and he said, 'I know.' "

Kennedy has since said he has maybe a glass of wine with dinner and considers himself a social drinker.

Neither much likes to talk about that subject, but both agree their personal lives have been impacted by their friendship.

Kennedy went to Hatch's mother's funeral, and Hatch to Kennedy's mother's services. Hatch has been to Kennedy's McLean, Va., home on several occasions.

When Kennedy's son Patrick had an operation in 1988, Hatch sent him flowers. And, recently, the two sang together for a fundraiser for the Robert F. Kennedy Foundation.

"Orrin was good enough to come," Kennedy says, launching into the parody song he and his wife, Victoria, wrote for the occasion: WHEREVER I GO / I KNOW TED GOES / WHEREVER I GO / I KNOW ORRIN GOES / NO FITS, NO FIGHTS, NO FEUDS, NO EGOS / AMIGOS / TOGETHER

Hatch sums it up succinctly: "We're like two brothers who fight each other all the time, but deep down care about each other."