NEWTON - Joseph P. Kennedy III’s candidacy for office may still be uncertain - but you would never know it, judging from the voters at a Democratic caucus here yesterday.
Kennedy, who is considering a bid for the congressional seat being vacated by Barney Frank, a Democrat, made an appearance at the caucus held at Newton South High School to shake hands and meet potential supporters. Elizabeth Warren, who is challenging Senator Scott Brown, a Republican, in the next election, also came to the caucus, delivering enthusiastic speeches to local Democrats.
Kennedy, the 31-year-old grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, announced last month that he had created an exploratory committee to determine whether a run for the seat would be viable and resigned from his job at the Middlesex district attorney’s office.
Democrats’ reaction to his potential candidacy has been positive, many viewing him as next in line to carry on the Kennedys’ political success. According to poll statistics released Thursday by the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the Boston Herald, Kennedy would defeat Sean Bielat, a Republican, in the race for Frank’s seat by 2 to 1.
And for most at the caucus, where registered Democrats gathered to choose delegates for the state’s Democratic convention, Kennedy’s candidacy is a foregone conclusion.
Volunteers collected signatures, as required for him to appear on the ballot. People remarked “Go get ’em!’’ and “Good luck to you!’’ as he passed in the school’s hallways. Others took videos on cellphones. One woman declared, “I never do this!’’ when she asked Kennedy to pose with her for a photo.
Kennedy was modest about local Democrats’ confidence in his candidacy, demurring when asked about when he will announce his candidacy.
He maintained that his appearance at Newton’s Democratic caucus was not a bout of preliminary campaigning, but instead just an opportunity to see “what’s on people’s minds.’’
“People have been encouraging, and that’s been very humbling, but it’s a long way to go,’’ Kennedy said. “We’re going step by step.’’
Brooke Lipsitt, former president of the Newton Board of Aldermen, embraced Kennedy a few moments after he entered the caucus, shaking his hand and saying, “I remember meeting your dad when he was about to run for office!’’
After he moved to another group of voters, Lipsitt explained that she had met with Joseph P. Kennedy II in the mid-1980s to talk about nuclear disarmament. She said she is pleased to see that the younger Kennedy is as personable and ambitious as his father. “Here it is, 25 years later, and here’s Joe Kennedy, the next generation, and an exciting candidate,’’ Lipsitt said. “We are so fortunate to have someone with such potential for Barney’s seat.’’
But wait - isn’t he still just “exploring’’ a candidacy?
“As far as I’m concerned, he may as well have announced,’’ Lipsitt declared, with a knowing grin. “We expect it very soon.’’
Jules Levine, who announced last month that he is also running for the Fourth Congressional seat, said he is expecting Kennedy to join the race. Even so, he couldn’t help but praise the 31-year-old.
“I’ve met him before,’’ Levine said. “I liked him then, and I like him now.’’
In addition to Bielat and Levine, Elizabeth Childs of Brookline, Paul Heroux of Attleboro, and Herb Robinson of Newton have announced they plan to run for Frank’s seat.
Elizabeth Warren, who announced her run for the US Senate seat in September, took a more gregarious approach at yesterday’s caucus, giving short speeches to classrooms full of Democratic voters.
Warren told Newton Democrats she had been “zip-zapping’’ across the state to speak with voters and shore up support in advance of the election.
“I’ll be out there working my fanny off for you,’’ Warren said. “I will be out there before the sun comes up in the morning, and I will be out there long after it goes down at night.’’
Setti Warren, mayor of Newton who dropped out of the US Senate race shortly after Warren’s announcement, accompanied the candidate on her rounds through the high school yesterday.
Elizabeth Warren received hearty applause from the rooms full of voters.
“Give ’em hell!’’ one woman called to her.
“That’s the only reason I’m doing it!’’ Warren shot back.
The state’s Democratic convention will take place June 2 in Springfield, where delegates will endorse candidates for state and national seats. Signatures for the candidacy are due by May 8.