- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 8, 2012

The first member of the Kennedy clan’s so-called fourth generation is inching closer to running for Congress — a place where his family had served almost continuously for more than six decades until last year.

But name recognition alone wouldn’t guarantee electoral success for Joseph P. Kennedy III — the 31-year-old son of former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II and grandson of the late former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy — Republicans and others say.

The younger Kennedy said last week that he was leaving his job as a prosecutor in Middlesex County west of Boston to “explore a candidacy” to replace Rep. Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democratic stalwart who is retiring.

“My decision to look seriously at elected office is grounded in a deep commitment to public service and my experience — both my own and that of my family — in finding just, practical and bipartisan solutions to difficult challenges,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Kennedy also said he will begin “to reach out to the people of [Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District] in order to hear directly from them about the challenges they are facing and their ideas on how we can restore fairness to our system.” He said he will make a final decision about entering the race in the weeks thereafter.

John Portz, a political-science professor at Boston’s Northeastern University, said Mr. Kennedy wouldn’t be a shoo-in to win the seat.

“The name has important currency — mostly positive — and certainly puts him at the front on the Democratic side,” Mr. Portz said. But “I don’t think the Republicans will back down. In fact, this may energize them.

“The opportunity to beat a Kennedy will bring out Republicans and will probably give this race a national audience.”

If Mr. Kennedy runs for the Democratic nomination as expected, it’s uncertain whether the five or so other Democrats who have filed paperwork to run or expressed an interest in the seat would bow out. But the Massachusetts Democratic Party has welcomed Mr. Kennedy’s potential candidacy.

“Joe Kennedy is a superb example of the deep, committed pool of talent among Massachusetts Democrats,” said Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh. “Because of the quality of our candidates, we are confident the Democratic candidate will be the better choice to match the values and needs of the voters of the 4th District.”

The southeastern Massachusetts district has been in Democratic control for decades. But Elizabeth Childs, a GOP candidate for the seat and a former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, said Mr. Kennedy would be viewed suspiciously by many voters as an outsider unfamiliar with their concerns.

“I know my neighbors, I have much confidence in them, and I think they won’t vote for someone just because of a name. They’re smarter than that,” she said.

Republican Sean Bielat, who lost to Mr. Frank in 2010 by about 10 percentage points, has filed paperwork to run again for the seat but said he won’t make a decision until later this month.

“Voters need citizen legislators — not career politicians or heirs to political dynasties,” a statement from the Bielat campaign said.

Mr. Kennedy, a Harvard Law School graduate, served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic before taking a job as a prosecutor serving Massachusetts’ Cape Cod area in 2009. He has served at his current post since September.

Former Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island, the son of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, was the last of his family to serve in Congress when he retired in January 2011. Until then, a Kennedy had served in Congress or the White House continuously since 1947, when John F. Kennedy began his political career in the House representing Massachusetts.

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