Through tragedy and triumph, the Kennedy clan has always found strength in its numbers. “I guess the only reason we’ve survived, “Robert Kennedy once joked, “is that there are more of us than there is trouble.”
That might be small consolation to his brother Ted, who at 62, hoping to extend his 32-year Senate career, has all the trouble he can handle this election season. Even if he wins his race against a vigorous opponent 15 years his junior, many political analysts are convinced this will be the older Kennedy generation’s last hurrah—that the youngest of the Kennedy brothers will never run again. But the family won’t be fading away. After all, more Kennedys are running for office this year than ever before. Another generation of candidates has emerged to carry on the family tradition. One of the four younger Kennedys, Massachusetts Rep. Joseph Kennedy II, 42, is running unopposed for reelection, and each of the others is expected to win. Here is the outlook:
Full of scars and age, Ted Kennedy fights the battle of his political life
Ted Kennedy’s full head of hair has turned completely white. His face is mottled and lined. He has gained weight. His hands shake visibly during campaign appearances. He isn’t just running for his sixth full term in the U.S. Senate—he is running scared. Throughout the summer, polls showed Kennedy running behind his Republican challenger, millionaire venture-capitalist Mitt Romney, 47. Only lately has Ted begun to move ahead, but his lead could be erased depending on the outcome of two televised debates.
Kennedy’s past reputation as a world-class carouser may have contributed to voter sentiment that it is time for a change. It is a weakness that Romney, son of former Michigan Gov. George Romney, has happily exploited. With his rugged good looks, “Romney is usurping the Kennedy image…made famous by Jack, Robert and even Teddy,” wrote Frank Phillips in the Boston Globe. The senator has struck back by enlisting telegenic members of his own family for campaign appearances, including his wife, Vicki, 40, a Washington lawyer so popular with voters that aides call her “the asset.” But the biggest crowds have turned out for John F. Kennedy Jr., who has barnstormed the state for his uncle. “On issue after issue he has been there,” John told starstruck voters about Ted. “He’s the strongest representative of Massachusetts, just as he is the strongest part of our family.” His uncle is betting heavily that he can win. Last week he borrowed $2 million against his home in suburban Washington to finance a last-minute flurry of campaign ads trumpeting his record.
Carrying on the dynasty, Ted’s son seeks his own place in Washington
Come November there may be a third Kennedy on Capitol Hill—Patrick, the youngest of Ted’s three children, who is running for the House of Representatives from Rhode Island. If he defeats his GOP opponent, physician Kevin Vigilante, as expected, Patrick will become the youngest member of Congress.
Patrick, 27 and unmarried, is politically precocious, even for a Kennedy. In 1988, while still a junior at Providence College, he won a seat in the state legislature, becoming the youngest in his illustrious family ever to win public office. He has held the seat ever since and has become known for his work in revising the legislature’s antiquated rules. Trying to use his youth against him, Vigilante, 40, regularly calls Patrick a nice kid, while Providence radio-station talk show host Mary Ann Sorrentino mocks him by playing “If I Only Had a Brain.” In this campaign, Patrick has been confronted with stories detailing his treatment for cocaine addiction in the mid ’80s. Many remember his participation in the night of drinking with his father and cousin William K. Smith that preceded Smith’s arrest for rape in Palm Beach, Fla., in 1991. Patrick now describes himself as “an outstanding member of the community who has put this behind him.” Voters seem to agree: polls indicate he has a comfortable lead.
A Maryland-based Kennedy learns the value of the family name
At one time, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, 43, seemed to distance herself from her famous family. In 1986 the oldest child of Robert and Ethel ran simply as “Kathleen Townsend” in a race for a normally Republican Maryland congressional seat. She lost. In June she resigned her job as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Clinton Justice Department to run for lieutenant governor of Maryland. This time out, Townsend is embracing her heritage: She is Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
As a result, Townsend is nearly as well-known as her running mate, Parris Glendening, a political science professor. “My family has been terrific,” Townsend says, noting that she collected “oodles of money” at a Kennedy fund-raiser on Cape Cod, Mass.
While a student at Radcliffe in the early ’70s, Kathleen met a tutor at the college, David Townsend, whom she married and with whom she now has four daughters: Meaghan, 16, Maeve, 15, Kate, 10, and Kerry, 2. Rather than leave the girls at home, she takes them on the campaign trail. “My favorite part is campaigning with the children,” she says. “I call them the feminist cooperative.” The Glendening-Town-send ticket is favored to win.
Pounding the pavement, a Shriver claims his own political inheritance
He’s got the teeth, the confident swagger and those unmistakable blue Kennedy eyes. But Mark Kennedy Shriver, the fourth of five children born to former Peace Corps director Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver—and brother of TV personality Maria Shriver—says he plans to win election to the Maryland House of Delegates the old-fashioned way. “I’m having my shoes resoled for the sixth time,” he says, noting that he has knocked on more than 12,000 doors in his Montgomery County district, learning something about local politics along the way. “You want to know what the cardinal rule is?” he asks, grinning. “Don’t walk on people’s lawns. They get really mad.”
The face-to-face campaigning helped Shriver, 30, breeze through the September Democratic primary, and the political neophyte is heavily favored to win one of the district’s three seats on Nov. 8. Shriver, who lives in Bethesda with wife Jeanne, 28, an account executive with American Express, graduated with a history degree from the College of the Holy Cross in 1986. Two years later he created the Choice Program, which provides mentors for inner-city youths.
So far he has tried to avoid exploiting his ties to either the Kennedys or the Shrivers, who have been a force in Maryland politics for more than two centuries. “We have money,” he admits. “So what? I hope people will look at what I’ve done. It shows a serious commitment to public policy.”
S. AVERY BROWN in New England. JENNIFER MENDELSOHn in Maryland and SARAH SKOLNIK in Washington