All signs go for Joe

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  February 29, 2012

Meanwhile, another Kennedy burst into the news this past weekend: Douglas Kennedy, the youngest son of Robert Kennedy and a first cousin to Joe, was charged with misdemeanor harassment and child endangerment after an altercation with two nurses, when he attempted to leave a New York hospital with his newborn baby.

This minor bit of news, involving one of the dozens of far-flung Kennedy members, received national coverage — and demonstrated that no family activity is too remote to infiltrate the perceptions of local voters.

And finally, on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum made national headlines by criticizing an iconic speech of John F. Kennedy.

Santorum said that the famous 1960 speech to Baptist ministers, in which Kennedy emphasized an absolute division between church and state, made him want to "throw up."

That kind of controversy is likely to play favorably for Joe, in a district where JFK is revered.

So far, however, he has wisely ignored all of these stories, and the media has not tried to rope him into commenting on them.


LOOKING FOR OPENINGS

Nor have Kennedy's opponents been able to force him to engage on the Kennedy-family stories — or anything at all.

The Democratic primary field has pretty much vanished in the face of Kennedy's support. The only major candidate to get as far as forming an exploratory committee was Boston City Councilor Mike Ross, who decided not to run.

On the Republican side, Elizabeth Childs, a former Brookline selectman, has been in the race since before Frank decided not to run for re-election. And Sean Bielat, who ran a solid but losing campaign in 2010, has jumped in for a second try.

Of the two, Bielat has been more aggressive in criticizing Kennedy — and the idea of blindly handing the election to someone just for being a Kennedy — in television interviews and on Twitter.

Bielat is hoping that opposing a Kennedy will help him raise money nationally — as Frank's notoriety in conservative circles generated close to $2.5 million for Bielat's 2010 campaign.

But it's hard to demonize someone for being a Kennedy unless there is something more specific to criticize. Meanwhile, Bielat's aggressive attacks risk alienating moderate voters in the district.

Childs has refrained from that approach; she intends to wait until there are policy issues to spotlight. "Clearly, the Kennedy name is known and highly respected here in the district," she says. "I don't think the way to deal with them is to blame them for being Kennedys."

That, however, may cost her in the Republican primary, as Bielat's Kennedy-baiting gains him more attention among the party's base.

And besides, by the time Kennedy gives his opponents any material to use against him, everyone — including Massachusetts Republicans — may well have given up on the race.


FEW GOP HOPES

In fact, those Massachusetts Republicans are already planning to focus the bulk of their time, energy, and resources on defending Brown. As for the congressional races, there is a growing sense that — despite redistricting and the retirements of Frank and John Olver — they have only one realistic chance of winning a congressional seat this year. And it isn't the one for Frank's open seat.

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