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OPINION

Joe Kennedy looks deep inside himself — and discovers a cool head in a time of crisis

The art of campaigning on not campaigning.

Joseph P. Kennedy III has developed a rationale, of sorts, for his campaign.
Joseph P. Kennedy III has developed a rationale, of sorts, for his campaign.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Big news!

Seven months after declaring he would challenge Senator Ed Markey, Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III is finally developing a rationale for why he’s running: He has better judgment than Markey in times of crisis, he has determined.

That, Kennedy says, is demonstrated by his decision to suspend his campaign from mid-March until April 1. As he puts it in a new fund-raising pitch:

“Now, we face a crisis of unimaginable magnitude. And if you want to know what kind of leadership I will bring to this seat — in contrast to Senator Markey — just look at what we have done with our campaigns over the last month. I immediately suspended political activities and shifted to a digital operation focused on one thing: COVID-19. I paused fundraising for myself to raise nearly $100k for frontline organizations driving our response. I reoriented my entire volunteer and organizer network to make wellness calls and check in with seniors across the state. I have dedicated every inch of my time, my resources, and my staff to COVID-19. Senator Markey didn’t. That’s the difference between us.”

Why, it’s almost enough to make you think that Markey has been out holding big campaign rallies. In fact, he’s gone diligently about being a US senator in a time of social distancing. His campaign credits him with helping secure unemployment benefits for gig workers and for securing $300 million for the fishing industry. Campaign manager John Walsh will walk you through a 17-page, 119-item list of things Markey has done in response to the coronavirus, should you have sufficient time and interest. (I, um, didn’t.)

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Still, you have to admire JPK III’s creativity. Alas for him, however, the effectiveness of his high-minded-statesman-in-time-of-crisis strategy falters some when announced to the world in bright blinking lights. It’s akin to a novice poker player at a high-stakes table flipping his cards over before the betting even begins, rubbing his palms gleefully together, and declaring: OK, these are the ace-high hombres I’ll be playing this hand.

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That said, it’s an improvement on what Kennedy has previously offered to explain why, in a year when Democrats are engaged in an all-hands-on-deck effort to win the presidency and retake the Senate, he is diverting donor dollars and activists’ time and talent to challenge a well-regarded incumbent in a seat that’s safe in November. Queried on that subject in the first debate, Kennedy sent a grand profusion of words scurrying forth, to ever more perplexing effect. (Boomer pop-culture reference: Imagine Edith Bunker introducing her various pronouncements with “one,” “two,” and “three,” and you’ll have a general idea.)

The coronavirus contagion, however, gave the young statesman a chance to pivot. In the face of the public health emergency, he quickly suspended active campaigning and refocused on the crisis. Ensconced in his Newton home, the Fourth District US Representative has held a steady stream of virtual meetings and conversations about the needs of the state and its citizens — occasionally interspersed with breathy reflections about the need for the kind of leadership he believes he can provide.

All that underscores another line of attack he’s advancing: He’s in Massachusetts more than Markey. There’s some truth to that. That’s not to say the incumbent has been politically AWOL, mind you; he’s a regular presence in the state. But at least in residential regard, Markey, co-owner of a posh place in Chevy Chase, Md., has sometimes brought to mind the ghost of King Hamlet, more a flickering visitation than an every-weekend presence at his modest other home in Malden.

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Since the coronavirus crisis, though, he’s been consistently camped out in Malden, conducting his own array of childhood-home-bound online events. He’s even tweeted photos of himself playing basketball, alone, at a street hoop in front his house. (Hmm. Don’t full-time residents usually take the window air-conditioning unit out in the winter?)

Now, I’m a bit of a Kennedy skeptic. Yet I have to admit, he’s got me hooked. I eagerly await the next chapter in the ongoing saga of “JPK III: Further reflection on why I think I’m running.”


Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh