WINTHROP — The first question for US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III on Saturday morning came from a grandmother who despairs over racism in America and wanted to know what he would do about the problem.
Next came questions came from a construction manager, who asked about prescription drug costs and about President Trump’s popularity in some of the country.
This gathering being in Winthrop, Kennedy heard about an enduring problem in town: noise from nearby Logan International Airport.
No one at the house party posed the question that has consumed some Democratic activists since Kennedy announced his US Senate campaign in late September: Why are you challenging US Senator Edward Markey to a Democratic primary?
But Kennedy offered an answer to the unasked question, describing his campaign as a chance to use a platform to bring attention to problems he cares about, deeply including poverty, substance abuse, school safety, and climate change.
“We have this chance now, here, today, over the course of this next year to prove that we are a Commonwealth and a country that actually sees people, hears people, meets them where they are, and has a government that says, ‘Hey, we got your back and we are with you,’ ” he said.
The gathering at the home of Winthrop School Committee Chairman Valentino Capobianco was among six events Kennedy’s campaign had planned for Saturday. Earlier in the day, he opened his campaign headquarters in Watertown before a packed crowd.
Kennedy’s Sunday schedule includes stops at fire stations in Worcester and Hudson and a canvassing event in Taunton, according to his campaign.
Markey is also scheduled to speak Sunday afternoon in Worcester, where he will discuss his Green New Deal proposal at Clark University with US Representative James McGovern.
Also campaigning for the Democratic nomination is Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labor lawyer.
One of the first voters Kennedy greeted in Winthrop was Del Brook E. Binns, 91, a former Tuskegee airman who photographed John F. Kennedy at the Boston Garden at a rally held the night before his election to the presidency in 1960.
Binns said the younger Kennedy is his pick for US Senate.
“I voted for John F. Kennedy. I’ve been with his family ever since. If a Kennedy is running, I’m going to vote for him,” Binns said.
Kennedy addressed the crowd from the kitchen, where he stood next to a table of sliced fruit, doughnuts, and coffee cake. An autographed photograph of Sophia Loren spreading sauce on pizza dough hung on the wall next to the congressman.
Kennedy answered the question about racism by discussing his trips during the last election cycle to campaign for Democrats in places where Trump and Republicans are popular. He said he’s trying to balance his fight against Trump’s bigotry with his desire to make sure the concerns of the president’s supporters are heard.
“Walking through a diner in Charleston, W.Va., there wasn’t as big a crowd as this one,” he said. “But they got families and they’re concerned about their future. And they’re seeing this country in a massive shift economically, politically, culturally, and they want to know how they can hold on, too. And we as Americans should be concerned about their future just as much as we’re concerned about the rest of ours.”
Suzanne Hitchcock-Bryan, a retired nurse who asked the question about racism, said Kennedy’s response left her deflated. The racism she sees, she said, isn’t a by-product of income inequality.
“I don’t buy the economic argument,” she said.
Rob Pucillo, the construction manager who asked Kennedy about Trump’s popularity and prescription drug costs, said he’s an unenrolled voter who cast a ballot for Trump in 2016.
Hikes in his health care costs, Pucillo said, have outpaced his salary increases and he blamed lobbyists and their cash for tipping the scales against him.
“One thing with Trump, he’s one of those guys, he can’t really be bought by those people and he’s trying to stop that. I think he’s being pushed back on it,” he said. “What can you do? What’s your plan to make my health insurance cheaper?”
Kennedy said Pucillo’s frustration is “100 percent reasonable.” The House, he said, plans to pass legislation that would let the federal government negotiate lower prices for brand-name drugs in Medicare’s prescription drug program, but the measure is opposed by Republicans in the Senate.
Their opposition, Kennedy said, is a product of a political system that is “structurally unequal and kept that way by those who benefit from that inequality.”
He offered cures that include abolishing the Electoral College, ending the filibuster, and holding Supreme Court justices to term limits. The room applauded.