The power of the name is with Joe Kennedy III

But he will have to prove himself.


1. Do you think JoeK3’s famous surname is more an asset or burden for him?

2. What is the real political influence of Kennedys nowadays, when after Ted Kennedy’s death they don’t have anyone in highest level of politics? Are they just a famous surname from history already or do they still have influence that could be used for example to support another politicians or causes?


Dennis Hale, Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of Political Science, Boston College

Joe Kennedy’s name is obviously what has gotten him this much attention. The district in which he is running is a new one, redrawn after the 2010 census (a requirement of the Constitution), and there is no incumbent. (The man who represented most of the new district, Barney Frank, is retiring at the end of this term.) Ordinarily, in a state like Massachusetts, a new district with no incumbent would have attracted a mob of candidates. But just the rumor that JoeK3 was thinking about running scared everyone off, and he is now pretty much all alone. That’s the power of the name.

On the other hand, there are plenty of voters who are likely to be put off by the idea that someone should be the presumptive candidate just because he is a Kennedy. Kennedy has already earned the endorsement of two important labor unions, the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International, which adds to the impression that Kennedy is an “insider” with special privileges. It also doesn’t help JoeK3 that the new district is slightly more conservative than the old district — i.e., it has more of the suburban and small-town voters who are Republicans and independents, and not thrilled by liberal Democrats. A conservative Republican, Sean Bielat — a businessman and a major in the Marine Corps Reserves — gave Barney Frank a pretty tough race in 2010, and will be a candidate against Kennedy in the fall.

All of this is mysterious because the Kennedy’s don’t have the traditional kinds of influence that usually define a political elite. They are wealthy, of course, but there are lots of wealthy people in politics, and the Kennedy’s are not spectacularly wealthy by modern standards. (Romney probably has more wealth than Ted had.) What makes them “special” is the myth that follows them, the myth of “Camelot” and the “dream that will not die.” Somehow many liberal Democrats have convinced themselves that nothing has been the same since the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, and every Kennedy candidate is a link to the Land of What Might Have Been. This is nonsense, of course. John F. Kennedy was far more conservative than any modern Democrat, including his late brother Ted, but the facts don’t seem to make much difference.

Since most of the residents of the new district are Democrats, any Democratic candidate would have a good chance of being elected. But this is an unusual year, politically, and nothing is certain.

Maurice Cunningham, Chairman, Department of Political Science, University of Massachusetts at Boston

1. It is a substantial advantage, the name is well known and liked in Mass.

2. It is still an important influence in Mass but nowhere near the prominence once attained. JPKII has advantages going in to the race due to his name but will have to prove himself. So far the reviews are good.

Thomas Dumm, Professor of Political Ethics, Department of Political Science, Amherst College

In Massachusetts, the Kennedy name is very influential still, a real asset. As indicated by Caroline Kennedy’s support for Obama in 2008 — and her toying with the New York Senate seat, that influence extends still, particularly among the more progressive elements of the Democratic constituency.


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