ATTLEBORO - Joseph P. Kennedy III arrived for his first official day on the campaign trail yesterday morning to a crush of reporters and television cameras. But the voters who met the newly minted candidate at stops across the district said that Camelot nostalgia is not enough to win their vote.
“I consider myself an independent thinker; I would like to see what he has to say,’’ said city resident David Downey, 48, who met Kennedy at a lunchtime visit to Morin’s Hometown Bar & Grille.
For every skeptic though, there was a longtime Kennedy supporter like Shirley Coelho, 77, who came to Morin’s just to catch sight of the new generation of the storied Massachusetts political family.
“I’m a fan, I’m glad he’s running, and I’m ready to vote for him right now,’’ said Coelho, showing off her new swag: two “Joe Kennedy for Congress’’ bumper stickers. “I voted for his uncle, and I’ll vote for him, too.’’
After officially announcing his candidacy in a YouTube video early yesterday morning, Kennedy, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, spent the day crisscrossing the Fourth Congressional District. The Democrat hopes to succeed retiring US Representative Barney Frank.
Kennedy began the day shaking hands with Green Line commuters in Newton, introduced himself to the lunch crowd at Morin’s in Attleboro and ended his day at a campaign event for the Fall River mayor.
At each stop, the 31-year-old former prosecutor assured voters that he will work to earn their support.
“I’m very, very proud of my family’s record of public service to the Commonwealth and to the country,’’ he told reporters in Newton. “But this campaign, any campaign, is going to be about the issues and about who goes out and earns it.’’
If elected, Kennedy would be the first member of his family to return to Washington since his cousin, former US representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, left the House last year.
At the Attleboro diner, a swarm of reporters crowded into the tiny restaurant, rushing to surround the congressional hopeful as he introduced himself, while a television, tuned to local noon news, broadcast images of him earlier that day.
Judy Erickson, a waitress at Morin’s for 10 years, held the door open as the throngs of reporters poured in. She has seen politicians make campaign appearances at Morin’s before - the diner is an Attleboro institution - but even so, yesterday’s crowd was extreme.
“A woman who was trying to get in for lunch, she got hit in the face by one of those TV cameras!’’ Erickson said. “But she took it like a trooper.’’
Alice Scanlon, 60, was tucking in to her cheeseburger and french fries when she found herself face-to-face with the politician and dozens of cameras.
“I heard he was coming, but I didn’t think I’d get caught in the middle of all this,’’ she said.
‘I consider myself an independent thinker; I would like to see what he has to say.’David Downey Attleboro resident
Kennedy apologized for interrupting her lunch with all the hubbub. But Scanlon didn’t mind.
“I think he would probably do a good job if he did get into office,’’ Scanlon said.
Kennedy said the day provided a chance to introduce himself to the residents whose votes he’d like to capture.
“For me, it’s been an absolute pleasure to . . . listen to the concerns of people in the district and to get a sense that the message I care about is one that they care about, as well,’’ Kennedy said.
Barney Frank, who will retire next January, will have held the fourth district seat - which snakes from Newton through Taunton and down to sections of Fall River - for 32 years.
Three other Democrats are also competing for the party’s nomination: Herb Robinson, Paul Heroux, and Jules Levine. Republicans Sean Bielat and Elizabeth Childs are also vying for the seat.
In Kennedy’s three-minute video, titled simply “I’m Running,’’ he promised that, if elected, his priorities would include a fair tax code, job growth, and a 21st-century energy policy.
But for Erickson, Kennedy’s appeal yesterday had nothing to do with his political views or his famous family.
“I like his red hair - I do!’’ she announced to patrons sitting at the counter. “I thought he was kind of cute.’’
So, does he have her vote?
“Oh, no, no, no - politics and religion, I stay away from those while I’m working,’’ Erickson said. “As a waitress, the best thing to discuss is the weather.’’Martine Powers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.