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Mass. Gets A Kennedy In A Race Again05:20
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Joseph Kennedy III speaks with the media at the Newton Center Green Line Station after launching his campaign for Congress Thursday. (AP)
Joseph Kennedy III speaks with the media at the Newton Center Green Line Station after launching his campaign for Congress Thursday. (AP)

Another Kennedy has entered politics. Joseph Kennedy III, son of former Rep. Joseph Kennedy II and a grandson of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, greeted voters in the 4th Congressional District Thursday. Kennedy is running to succeed Rep. Barney Frank.

Kennedy's official entry into the race came out on the Web. In a video, we see the athletic 31-year-old with a shock of flaming red hair and clear green eyes doing things such as helping an old lady down some steps.

"I believe this country was founded on a simple idea: that every person deserves to be treated fairly by each other and by their government, but that's not happening in America anymore," he says.

The way the campaign has begun, with a video and a tour of the district, no speech, is becoming a trademark of Kennedy's consultants, Doug Rubin and Kyle Sullivan. They are also strategists for Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren. They've worked on Gov. Deval Patrick's campaigns and those of Rep. Niki Tsongas. But the plush video might just as well have been a remake of the films Kennedy's great-grandfather and namesake, Joseph Kennedy Sr. — among many things a movie producer — might have made.

A Kennedy Campaign Is Closely Scrutinized

Joe III represents the fifth generation of Kennedys in politics. If he succeeds, he would resume his family's long line in Congress, broken last year when his cousin, former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, gave up his Rhode Island seat.

In Newton, journalists asked Kennedy to back up his contention that Americans aren't being treated fairly by their government. He drew on his experience as a Harvard Law School student.

"One good example would be some of the work that I did as a legal aid attorney, where we represented many families who were paying their rent on time, who were doing absolutely nothing wrong, but yet through the foreclosure crisis were evicted by banks and put out on the street, destabilizing their families when they did absolutely nothing wrong, and that's not right," he said.

When you're a Kennedy your first foray on the campaign trail is scrutinized closely. So here's the review: Kennedy seemed shy but at ease with the press. His was a polished performance, free of the hesitations that forced his cousin, Caroline Kennedy, to reconsider a run for the U.S. Senate.

Kennedy has already won the endorsement of the AFL-CIO. (No one else asked for it). And he's also won the endorsement of the SEIU, the Service Employees International Union. In that case, Kennedy won over the union members speaking in English and in Spanish in the Dominican village accent he picked up in the Peace Corps.

Meeting Voters

Some of the voters Kennedy greeted in the diner inside the Newton Centre Station were already predicting a landslide.

"Talk about coals to Newcastle," one man told him. "You didn't even have to shake my hand. It's like, check."

"Well, it's Day 1, so..." Kennedy replied.

"It's better to get 95 percent than 92," the man, who was with a friend, said. "You get two votes. You get my vote."

Newton, the city with the most voters in the district, is a Democratic stronghold, as is Brookline next door. But that doesn't mean all of Kennedy's encounters with voters on his first day were easy. Still, when he met a skeptical voter, he dealt with her with grace. That's what happened with Mary Thomits. She was definitely not impressed with Kennedy. She asked him why he's even running.

"You have Stanford and Harvard," Thomits said.

"Yep," Kennedy replied.

"You've never run for office before," Thomitz pointed out.

"Nope," Kennedy said.

"How are you on abortion?" Thomitz asked.

"Pro-choice," Kennedy replied very softly.

"OK, well, I'm pro-life," Thomitz told him. "I have two adopted children, Irish Catholic, and your mother did a great job with you," she said, clearly trying to make an argument against abortion.

Kennedy, who's recently engaged, moved out of his mother's home in Cambridge, which is in not in the district, to Brookline two weeks ago.

His Opponents

Kennedy has multiple primary opponents. The only poll so far, by UMass-Lowell/Boston Herald, shows that if he beats his Democratic challengers, he would defeat Republican Sean Bielat, of Norfolk, in a landslide, 60 percent to 28 percent. But Bielat believes redistricting could help the Republican winner.

"It's a much fairer district," Bielat said in a telephone interview with WBUR. "The partisan breakdown, when you consider people leaning Democrat, leaning Republican, is much more even than in the old 4th [district], so I think it's a great opportunity to have a real competitive election."

Two years ago, Bielat ran a strong race against Frank. In the end, Frank won re-election, but Bielat took 18 towns in the district. Unfortunately for Republicans, seven of those towns have been taken out in redistricting. But the good news for Republicans is that 15 new communities have been added to the district, and all of them voted for Scott Brown in the Senate race two years ago.

So Kennedy is entering a race for what was once a safe Democratic seat, but now looks more competitive.

This program aired on February 16, 2012.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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