WASHINGTON – Another Kennedy just might occupy the Kennedy seat in the Senate.
Amid the emotional public outpouring over the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, talk of a successor has focused on his widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, and his nephew, Joseph Kennedy II, the 56-year-old former congressman who could return to politics after a decade’s absence.
“Even though he’s emotionally drained right now, he can’t help but be moved by the enormous flood of affection and respect from all over the country,” said veteran Democratic strategist Dan Payne. “He wouldn’t be human and he wouldn’t be a Kennedy if he didn’t give serious consideration to running for what is known as the ‘Kennedy seat’ in Massachusetts.”
Joseph Kennedy would be an early favourite if he decides to run, likely discouraging other Democrats who might be reluctant to oppose a Kennedy so close to the senator’s death. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday set a date of Jan. 19 for a special election to fill Kennedy’s seat. The primary will be Dec. 8.
There have been few clues about Kennedy’s plans and he has declined comment through his spokesman, Brian O’Connor. Kennedy family sources have indicated that Victoria Kennedy is not interested in running.
Patrick said Monday that she told him she does not want to be appointed as an interim replacement either. Before he died last week, Edward Kennedy had asked Massachusetts lawmakers to change state law to let the governor name an interim appointee to serve until voters can choose a permanent replacement. State lawmakers considering the change plan a hearing on it next week.
Within days of Edward Kennedy’s death, jockeying for the first open Senate seat in Massachusetts in 25 years intensified.
Democrats who might run are Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, and Reps. Stephen Lynch, Michael Capuano and Edward Markey. Former Rep. Martin Meehan, now chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, has $4.8 million in his federal campaign account, the largest sum of any potential candidates.
Among the possible Republican candidates are Cape Cod businessman Jeff Beatty, former White House chief of staff Andrew Card, former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and Chris Egan, former U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Grooming family members for plum political posts is something of a Kennedy family tradition. In 1962, Edward Kennedy won the Senate seat that his brother, John, held before winning the presidency in 1960. The Kennedys helped arrange the appointment of John’s old roommate, Benjamin A. Smith, to hold the seat until Edward Kennedy turned 30 and was legally old enough to run for the Senate.
Joe Kennedy is the eldest son of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy. He was elected to the House in 1986 and served six terms before retiring.
He works to provide low-cost heating oil to the poor through Boston-based Citizens Energy Corp., a charity he founded years ago. He is a visible figure across the state, appearing in TV ads touting his oil program for the poor.
Kennedy’s public image was tarnished in 1997 after his former wife, Sheila Rauch Kennedy, published a book titled “Shattered Faith.” In the book, she accused him of trying to bully her into agreeing to an annulment of their marriage.
Friends say Kennedy, who enjoys fishing in his boat off Cape Cod, has been content with his life away from politics. He has balked at opportunities to run for governor since leaving Congress.
The vaunted Kennedy name, he also knows, is no longer a sure thing in politics.
Caroline Kennedy bungled her bid for a New York Senate seat earlier this year. Joe Kennedy’s sister, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, served two terms as lieutenant governor of Maryland but lost her bid for governor in 2002.
But the prospect of an open Senate seat and the chance to extend the family political dynasty could be powerful motivation.
“Even more so now that Ted is gone, Joe would be seen as the last figure in the dynasty,” Payne said. “There would be people not just in Massachusetts, but all over the country who will urge him on.”
Kennedy has a reputation as an exuberant campaigner. Polls show he is among the state’s most popular figures, and he is able to raise a lot of money in a short time, owing to his family’s vast political network.
“The mouthful of those gleaming white teeth, that booming, boisterous voice and then you have all those little old ladies who just want to touch him, shake his hand,” said Payne. “When he turns to shake somebody’s hand, it’s like someone turned on a beacon.”