A Kennedy considers running for House seat

By Frank Phillips and Susan Milligan
Globe Staff / February 27, 2010

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With speculation mounting that US Representative William D. Delahunt will not seek reelection, Joseph P. Kennedy III, son of the former congressman and great-grandson of the Kennedy family patriarch, is eyeing a run to succeed him in the 10th Congressional District, senior Democratic sources say.

The sources say that Kennedy, a 29-year-old assistant district attorney on the Cape considered by many to be the most promising member of his generation to extend the family’s political legacy, is not close to making any decisions and will not speak publicly until Delahunt announces whether he will seek another term. The discussions are taking place very privately among Kennedy family confidants.

As Delahunt ponders his future and Democratic hopefuls eye a bid for his seat, Kennedy’s potential candidacy is weighing heavily on the field that is starting to take shape.

“If he runs, he is immediately the front-runner,’’ said state Senator Robert O’Leary, Democrat of Barnstable, who said he would run for the seat if Delahunt retires. “From my perspective if Kennedy enters the race, it obviously changes the dynamic and makes it more difficult. But it would not change my decision.’’

One potential hurdle, however, is the political climate in the state, and especially in that district, which went heavily for Republican Scott Brown in last month’s Senate election. If Kennedy were to run and win his party’s nomination, he could risk become a lightning rod for the newly energized conservatives from around the country who poured millions of dollars into Brown’s coffers. With no member of the family ever losing an election in Massachusetts, he would be putting the Kennedy legacy on the line.

Another major consideration facing Kennedy is whether he should remain in his job as an assistant district attorney in Barnstable County and build a stronger resume as a prosecutor before seeking political office. One source who has talked to him came away with the impression he may put his political aspirations on hold and remain in District Attorney Michael D. O’Keefe’s office, where he has worked for eight months.

But others close to him say that Kennedy, a Harvard Law School graduate and former Peace Corps volunteer, may not be able to resist the possibility of a rare opening in a Massachusetts congressional seat. He has been active in state Democratic politics circles and attending local party events since he emerged on the scene in 2006 when he and his twin brother, Matt, cochaired Edward M. Kennedy’s last Senate campaign. At times, he has accompanied Delahunt to 10th district events, fueling speculation about his interest in the seat.

Kennedy, son of former US representative Joseph P. Kennedy II, did not return a call to his Cape Cod office seeking comment.

Democratic political consultant Michael Shea, who has worked for Delahunt in two campaigns, including his first election in 1996, said that Joseph Kennedy’s presence in the race should give pause to potential Democratic candidates.

“Any time a Kennedy gets into a race, everybody better think twice,’’ said Shea. “That is particularly true if the field is crowded.’’

“You are running against history, against a legacy, while at the same time you are out there trying to tell people who you are,’’ Shea said. “The Kennedy name has immediate cache with Democrats.’’

Besides O’Leary, the potential Democratic field includes Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating and insurance company executive Philip J. Edmundson, a former Hingham selectman and longtime Democratic political activists on the South Shore. Edmundson has told Democratic colleagues that he is ready to spend $1 million of his own money.

Keating, a former state legislator, is a savvy political insider and experienced campaigner. But he, like O’Leary, would face a tough task raising funds for a congressional race in the relatively short time before the September primary.

He had built an $830,000 war chest for a possible race for the attorney general’s office, which would have been left vacant if Martha Coakley had won the US Senate election in January. But state political accounts cannot be used for federal campaigns.

Several Republicans have also expressed interest, including state Representative Jeffrey D. Perry of Sandwich, who has launched a campaign, and former state treasurer Joseph D. Malone, who appears poised to jump into the race. State Senator Robert Hedlund of Weymouth is also said to be looking into the race.

Delahunt, by publicly ruminating about whether he would seek reelection, has led many in the political world to believe he will not run for an eighth term.

A senior Democratic source said Delahunt had decided two years ago not to run for another term, but Edward Kennedy persuaded him to remain in Congress.