The election of 2012 is 21 months away and already two candidates have thrown their hats into the ring for the race for the senate seat currently held by retiring Senator Joe Lieberman, but Democrats Susan Bysiewicz and Chris Murphy won’t be alone for much longer. At least three other Democrats are on the list of potential candidates, and the Republican list is even longer.
The internal polling released by the Bysiewicz campaign on Tuesday thrust a well known name into the senate speculation: Ted Kennedy, Jr. Her polls show her beating Kennedy in a primary, and show him tying Murphy.
The son of the late Massachusetts senator has not expressed, at least publicly anyway, any interest in the race to succeed Connecticut’s senior senator. There has always been talk that Kennedy might enter the family business, and the chatter picked up after his eloquent eulogy at his father’s funeral in August 2009. Since then, several Democrats have heaped praise on Kennedy as a potential candidate.
Kennedy, who lives in Branford and runs a financial services group in New York, has routinely waved off suggestions that he seek office, but has given supporters a nugget of hope. He has indicated he has thought of running for office “in the future” suggesting it could happen when his children are older.
Why Kennedy Might Run
In 2012, Kennedy’s daughter will be college age and his son, ready for high school. The timing may not be ideal, but the way political cycles work, if Kennedy really wants to be a senator, 2012 could be the optimum year.
Kennedy will turn 51 in ’12. If he chooses not to run, the next opportunity to run would be 2018, that is only if Republicans win the seat next year. If the Democrats win, the Kennedy senate ship may have sailed. Another opportunity would be for Blumenthal’s seat…down the road. Blumenthal will most assuredly seek re-election in 2016. It is possible Blumenthal wouldn’t run for a 3rd term in 2022, when he will be on the verge of turning 77, but that’s 11 years Kennedy would have to wait.
It is also possible Kennedy could run for Congress down the road, but Rosa DeLauro shows no signs of slowing down. Running for a governor is also a future possibility, but Democratic options there seem to taken for 2014.
If Kennedy were to run for the senate, he would benefit from President Obama’s re-election campaign that would make it favorable for any Democrat in this blue state. Voter turnout will swell in heavily Democratic areas like all-important Bridgeport. Kennedy could also be the beneficiary of some early endorsements by key Democrats, including long time friends Ned Lamont and former Senator Chris Dodd. Kennedy made history last year by recording his first television commercial for a candidate, when he hit the airwaves for Lamont during the latter’s campaign for governor.
There is also the Kennedy family mystique. For the next few years there will be a steady stream of 50th anniversary reports and specials on the administration of Ted Jr.’s uncle, John F. Kennedy. Older voters will be reminded of a time of great promise, and younger voters will be continually educated about the Camelot era without the candidate ever having to say a word about it. The television networks, newspapers and websites will take care of that. The big bonus? An October gift. The media’s JFK anniversary celebration will reach a crescendo in October of 2012, when there plenty of retrospectives of President Kennedy’s finest hour: the Cuban Missile Crisis. This will come right in the final throes of the senate campaign and would bring Ted Kennedy, Jr., favorable publicity that money cannot buy.
All of this nostalgia might inspire Kennedy to run. For the first time since the 1940s, there is no Kennedy elected to serve in Washington.
According to WFSB Democratic political analyst Duby McDowell , “Kennedy would instantly be a front runner in the race, not just for his name and pedigree; but because he and his wife Kiki have earned a lot of good will in this state for work they have done for candidates and causes. Also, if Linda McMahon is the Republican candidate, we will need a candidate who has the ability raise big money and Kennedy could do that.”
Kennedy could easily tap into a vast fundraising network, and the political connections of his father and Senator Dodd. It would also bring national attention to the race which would bring in more dollars. A Kennedy candidacy would bring Chris Matthews that “thrill up his leg” he hasn’t felt since 2008.
Why Kennedy Might Not Run
The primary reason for not running would be family concerns. Kennedy enjoys a private life out of the media glare and by all accounts is a hands-on family man. That would change in an instant with the rigors of a campaign, intense scrutiny of every aspect of his life, and travel for fundraising. If elected, it means a move to Washington and as Senator Dodd told me “constant fundraising.”
There is also no guarantee Kennedy would cruise to the nomination. Duby stresses that Kennedy’s entry into the race doesn’t necessarily mean he would clear the field. “Bysiewicz and Murphy are experienced campaigners who know that there is always room for error with a first-time candidate.” When asked about Kennedy’s chances in a senate race, former state party chairman Ed Marcus told me “it is difficult for a newcomer to start at the top.” Popular 2nd district Congressman Joe Courtney is also considering jumping in the race, as is former state treasurer Frank Borges.
The general election would also be the difficult. Gone are the days when the state GOP fielded a weak candidate. The bench for 2012 includes 2010 nominee McMahon, 2010 gubernatorial nominee Tom Foley, former congressman Rob Simmons, former U.S. Attorney Kevin O’Connor, and former Lt. Governor Michael Fedele. McMahon grabbed 44% of the vote against the state’s most popular Democrat. If she comes back next year, it will no doubt be armed with new tools to broaden her appeal.
There is also the possibility voters could sour on Democrats next year. Governor Dannel Malloy and the Democratic controlled state legislature will have to make tough cuts and possibly raise taxes. The party could take the hit as voters digest what by all accounts will be painful changes. Malloy won’t be on the ballot in ’12, but angry voters could take it out on others with a “D” next to their name.
WFSB Republican analyst Brian Flaherty thinks Kennedy, while an impressive candidate, is certainly beatable. “The Kennedy name has an appeal in any state. Ted Kennedy, Jr. and his wife have long made Connecticut their home, and they have long worked to make it a better place. His entry in the race would certainly be a major development, but since Murphy and Bysiewicz don’t seem willing to give way, I don’t believe he’d prompt any Republicans to change their mind.
Finally, as several members of the Kennedy family have said many times, you don’t have to be elected to serve. Kennedy is well known for his work with people with disabilities.
We’ll discuss the 2012 senate race this Sunday morning at 11AM on Face the State with Dennis House. My guests: Neil Vigdor of the Greenwich Time, and Don Michak of the Journal Inquirer.