Can Joe Kennedy III’s Run for Congress Repaint Massachusetts Blue?

Joseph P. Kennedy III’s run for Congress could restore the Kennedys to Capitol Hill and Massachusetts to the Democrats, says Michelle Cottle.

Jeff Malet

Camelot groupies, rejoice! The Kennedys are girding for a comeback.

While most of the political world was glued this week to the Republican presidential field’s tussle for the hearts of Granite Staters, a fresh Democratic front was opening just down the road in Massachusetts.

After months of low-level chatter, Joe Kennedy III—son of former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II and grandson of Bobby—announced Thursday that, come January 20, he will leave his job with the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office to pursue the congressional seat being vacated by the crankily transcendent Barney Frank.

What’s the big deal, you ask? Isn’t a Kennedy running for office in Massachusetts the definition of dog-bites-man—the electoral equivalent of Lindsay Lohan failing a breathalyzer?

Not lately. After an impressive run, the nation’s most famous political dynasty has fallen on hard times in recent years. In early 2009, Caroline somehow let Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat slip through her fingers. Later that year, liberal lion Teddy was felled by a brain tumor. And in 2010, after years of struggling with prescription drug and alcohol abuse, Teddy’s son, Patrick, opted not to run for reelection to his Rhode Island congressional seat.

As for the younger generation, most have shunned the political arena. Indeed, since Patrick left office last January, the nation’s capital has been devoid of elected Kennedys for the first time since 1947 (that’s right: 64 consecutive years). At this point, the family standard has been relegated to Maria Shriver’s older brother, Bobby, the mayor of Santa Monica and the only member of the Kennedy clan currently in elective office.

How the mighty have fallen.

All things considered, there are worse horses the family could bet on. A hail and hearty 31, JPK3 has got the smile, the jawline, the shoulders. (Although, good Lord, could that hair be any brighter orange?) And if his much-talked-about speech last January commemorating JFK’s “City on a Hill” address is any sign, he’s not too shabby an orator.

As for his CV, young Joe has the sterling ed cred one would expect—Stanford undergrad, Harvard Law—along with a bleeding-heart stint in the Peace Corps. Post-Corps, he spent a couple of years as a prosecutor on—where else?—Cape Cod. But the electoral winds weren’t as friendly on the Cape as in other parts of the state. (Last year, there were reports that Kennedy had commissioned a poll that showed that Cape Cod and Southshore voters were suffering from “Kennedy fatigue.”) So in September, he moved over to become an assistant DA for the vastly more populous, and more Democratic, Middlesex County—a far more propitious platform from which to launch a political career. (It certainly worked wonders for Great Uncle Teddy.)

That said, this run is about more than the reboot of a single dynasty. It is also about the Democratic Party’s fierce struggle to repaint Massachusetts deep blue, thus erasing one of its most searing recent embarrassments.

It’d be tough to overstate the shock to the Dems’ system when they allowed Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat to be captured by Scott Brown in 2010. A Republican! In Teddy’s chair! We’re talking deep psychic scarring here, along with much weeping, gnashing of teeth, and drowning of sorrows in tall green bottles of Jameson.

This year offers a shot at redemption, if only Dems can fire up their voters. And what better way to do so than with a Kennedy on the ticket? Barack Obama may no longer make Bay State hearts go pitter-pat, but add a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed new Kennedy to budding liberal heartthrob and Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren?

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If that doesn’t bring ‘em to the polls, nothing will.