EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. | Two years ago, it would have been unthinkable that both seats held by Kennedy family members could be won by Republicans.
But Scott Brown’s January election to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s former Massachusetts seat paved the way, and now the GOP is hoping Rhode Island state Rep. John J. Loughlin II will give an encore performance in the race for the U.S. House seat held by Patrick J. Kennedy, the late senator’s son, in Tuesday’s election.
“What we are finding in Rhode Island is exactly what we found in Massachusetts during Scott Brown’s election, and that is extreme voter unrest about the liberal, big-government, agenda that is bankrupting our nation,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, the architect of Mr. Brown’s win and now a strategist with the Loughlin campaign.
“People are just now beginning to wake up to the fact that our country is on the brink of financial ruin and Rhode Island is not immune to the voter backlash that we are witnessing in other parts of the country.”
An NBC10-Quest Research poll released Thursday found Mr. Loughlin trailing Democratic nominee David M. Cicilline by just 2 percentage points.
Whatever the outcome of the race, the election will mark the end of an era in American politics that dates back to 1946 when John F. Kennedy won a House seat in Massachusetts. Each year since then, at least one member of the Kennedy family has been in the White House, the U.S. House, or the U.S. Senate.
“It really is the end of the line for the Kennedys politically because when Patrick Kennedy leaves office I think the only Kennedy left is someone on the Santa Monica City Council,” said Darrell M. West, a former Brown University professor who now works at the left-leaning Brookings Institution. “When you think about the fact that at one point they had a president and two senators and now they are down to a city council seat, that pretty much tells the story.”
Robert S. Shriver, a nephew to the former president and brother of California’s first lady, Maria Shriver, is serving his second term on the Santa Monica City Council, this time as mayor.
In Rhode Island, the GOP’s odds of winning the 1st Congressional District increased in February after Patrick J. Kennedy abruptly announced that he would not seek re-election to the seat he has held since 1995.
Now days before Election Day, analysts say Mr. Cicilline, the mayor of Providence, has a slight edge over Mr. Loughlin in the race to represent this diverse district, which extends from the working-class neighborhoods of Woonsocket to the wealthier coastal community of Newport, where John Fitzgerald Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953.
Analysts say Providence Mayor David M. Cicilline, a Democrat, leads Mr. Loughlin, a Republican, in the race to represent this diverse district, which extends from the working-class neighborhoods of Woonsocket to the wealthier coastal community of Newport, where John Fitzgerald Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953.
But the White House isn’t taking any chances and is worried enough to deploy President Obama here this week to campaign for Mr. Cicilline. Meanwhile, Republicans held campaign rallies with Mr. Brown and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele.
“No one is safe in this environment - even in Rhode Island,” said William J. Lynch, who recently stepped down as state Democratic Party chairman after 12 years. “This area is no longer just a blind, openly liberal safe area. Those days are gone.”
Asked why, Mr. Lynch pointed to voter registration numbers over the past two decades that show Rhode Island has gone from having 60 percent of voters registered as Democrats to 60 percent of voters registered as independents.
In many ways, this race and the congressional and gubernatorial races across the country have boiled down to a referendum on opposing governing philosophies, including the big-government approach that the Kennedys helped cultivate during their 64 years in elected office.