The ad begins with a gray-toned shot of Representative Joe Kennedy III gazing out a window. It’s quick and subtle, but for viewers of a certain age, it’s meant to evoke a famous image of a famous relative — that of President John F. Kennedy looking out of the south window of the Oval Office.
What’s next? A shot of Joe playing touch football? Unfortunately, contact sports are not PC during the coronavirus pandemic, so that’s out.
In the current ad, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy is doing what Kennedys do. He’s running on the ghosts of Camelot, and faith in the Kennedy name. If history is the judge, that’s a huge advantage in his primary fight against Senator Edward J. Markey.
“People just believe, fairly or not, having a Kennedy makes a difference,” said Michael Goldman, a veteran political consultant who worked on the first congressional campaign run and won by Joe Kennedy II, the father of the current congressman.
Instilling belief that a Kennedy can do what others can’t is a fundamental part of the family’s political success story. “He can do more for Massachusetts” was the slogan used by Jack Kennedy when he ran for the Senate in 1952. And 10 years later, his brother Ted recycled it when he ran for a Senate seat.
Joe Kennedy III is not using those exact words — yet — but his $1.2 million ad buy makes the case that he, too, can do something special for Massachusetts. For example, he talks about his efforts to fight for “life-saving medical equipment, COVID testing for everyone, direct cash payments, and paid sick leave for all” — as if no other Democrat is doing the same thing. And at the end of the ad, he promises that “quality health care will be a guaranteed right for all,” and declares, “In the US Senate, I will lead that fight.”
If Republicans retain the Senate and White House, it’s hard to see how Kennedy could win a health care battle any more than Markey. Yet, in this state, voters have a history of believing in the Kennedy name, even when opponents scoffed at it.
In Ted Kennedy’s first Senate race, the state’s attorney general, Edward J. McCormack, who was also the nephew of then US House Speaker John W. McCormack, famously charged that if his opponent’s name were Edward Moore instead of Edward Moore Kennedy, his candidacy “would be a joke.” The joke was on McCormack when Kennedy beat him with 69 percent of the vote. In Kennedy’s first campaign after the Chappaquiddick scandal, he still won reelection with 62 percent of the vote. His lowest tally — 58 percent — came against Republican Mitt Romney in 1994.
Ted Kennedy served in the Senate for nearly 47 years, until his death of brain cancer at age 77. But his longevity hasn’t stopped Joe Kennedy from suggesting a need to pass the torch from Markey, 73, to a new generation. From the start, polls have given Kennedy, 39, the lead. So it looks like voters have the same trust in the Kennedy name as they ever did.
But with COVID-19 dominating the news, a primary race that was supposed to be the hottest in the country is not generating much heat or buzz. Kennedy’s ad blitz looks like an effort to stir up some some electoral passion. The problem is that there’s no big ideological difference between these two candidates. Markey is trying to own the progressive mantle, particularly on environmental issues, but the pandemic has taken away the urgency on that.
Besides age, the biggest difference between these two is that Kennedy is a Kennedy. Voters really don’t need much in the way of reminding. But in the next ad, if touch football is out, maybe a JFK-inspired sailboat expedition will do.