Could GOP Win Retiring Patrick Kennedy's Seat?

Since Friday, pundits and pols have been trying to evaluate the surprise retirement announcement from Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D.-R.I.) and the significance of the fact that there will be no Kennedy in either the House or the Senate for only the second time since John F. Kennedy first won a House seat from Massachusetts in 1946.  

The last time that Congress was “Kennedy free” was 1961-2, when JFK’s Harvard roommate Benjamin Smith filled his Senate seat until brother Ted met the constitutional age of 30 in 1962 and was thus able to run for and win the Senate seat, which he held until his death last year.  

Days before Ted’s son Patrick announced his exit from the House seat he has held since 1994, the 42-year-old Rhode Island Democrat could not resist one last whack at a political opponent.  

In discussing the election of Scott Brown to the Senate seat held by his father and Uncle Jack, Patrick Kennedy said that the candidacy of Brown has been shown to be a “joke.”  He went on to blast Brown for pushing to be sworn in ahead of schedule because, in his words, “he was sworn in early in order to cast his first vote as an objection to Obama’s appointment to the NLRB.”  (Brown’s first vote was to join with all of his fellow Senate GOPers to block to the nomination of Craig Becker, onetime counsel to the Service Employees International Union, to the National Labor Relations Board.)

“Seven out of ten of Brown’s voters were labor households and he stressed that he was independent and while he was originally scheduled to be sworn in next week, they moved it up to today so he could cast his first vote, the most anti-labor, the most anti-what his constituents thought they were voting for when they voted for him,” Kennedy told reporters, adding that his father’s successor in the Senate is “in the tank for the Republicans.”

Strong stuff, all right, but as one who has covered young Kennedy since his first winning race for the state legislature in Rhode Island nearly twenty years ago, I’m not surprised.  This is one mean fellow: to launch his political career, Kennedy took out a fellow liberal Democrat by the name of John Skeffington (a name strikingly similar to that of Frank Skeffington, hero of the Edwin O’Connor’s epic political novel The Last Hurrah) whose only sin was that he held the Rhode Island legislative seat recent Providence College graduate Kennedy wanted.

Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr is just one source who reminded Patrick Kennedy that his choice of the word “joke” to characterize Scott Brown is a perilous one: in his now-famous 1962 debate with Ted Kennedy, opponent Edward McCormack declared that “if his name were Edward Moore instead of Edward Moore Kennedy, his candidacy would be a joke.”  Brown himself simply told the Herald that it was “unfortunate [Patrick Kennedy] would use mean-spirited comments like that at a time when we’re just trying to solve the problems of the Commonwealth.”

For my part, as Patrick Kennedy leaves politics, I just think of the withering comment his Uncle Jack made about a former opponent:  “He went out like he came in: no class.”

GOP Could Win Kennedy’s Seat

In the few days since Patrick Kennedy’s bombshell announcement that he would not seek re-election in Rhode Island’s 1st District, political developments are coming fast and furious.  

The 1st District, which includes part of Providence, is considered the less Democratic of the two House districts in Little Rhody. Republican Ron Machtley held the 1st with ease from 1988 until he ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1994 and the House seat was first won by Democrat Kennedy.

Within 24 hours of Kennedy’s announcement, Providence Mayor David Cicilline and State Democratic Chairman Bill Lynch made it official they would run for the 1st District seat.  Like the mayors of Paris, Berlin, and Houston, Cicilline is openly gay and has national political contacts.  Lynch is a popular figure among Democrats statewide.  Both are considered liberal Democrats who will back the Obama agenda on jobs and health care.

State Rep. John Loughlin had been running for Congress even before Kennedy’s surprise decision.  A retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, Loughlin serves as House GOP Whip and is considered a moderate-to-conservative Republican.  There is little argument that he is the strongest potential GOP hopeful in the 1st District since physician Kevin Vigilante, who ran a strong race against Kennedy in 1994.

But the biggest guessing game in Providence these days is, “What will Buddy do?” As every Providence resident knows, Buddy is Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, Jr., former five-term mayor of Providence whose career at City Hall ended when he was convicted on a charge of corruption in office.  Since his release two years ago, Cianci has been a presence in the city as host of a popular radio talk program and discussion of what he will run for and when is common at the pubs and political meetings throughout the city (as a convicted felon, Cianci cannot own firearms or vote for himself but he can run for and serve in office).

Two weeks ago, Cianci hinted on his radio program that he just might challenge Kennedy.  With Kennedy out, the man known universally as the “prince of Providence” has kept open the possibility of running for the open seat.  The question is, if he does run for, what ticket will it be on?  Cianci was initially elected mayor as a Republican, resigned after pleading “no contest” to assaulting the lover of his estranged wife, and then made a spectacular comeback by winning the mayoral office as an independent.  

Is Delahunt Next Dem to Go?

No sooner had Patrick Kennedy become the 13th House Democrat to say “outta here” in 2010 than speculation focused on fellow liberal and Kennedy family friend William Delahunt of Massachusetts as the likely 14th.

On Saturday, seven-termer Delahunt told reporters that he was considering retirement from the Cape Cod-based district he has long held with ease.  In January, Republicans began looking seriously at a challenge to the veteran congressman after the GOP Senate nominee Scott Brown rolled up 61% of the vote in Delahunt’s district.

Since the special U.S. Senate race, three well-known Republicans have signaled they are running for Congress regardless of what Delahunt does.  One of them, former State Treasurer Joe Malone, made headlines last week when he released a poll showing him defeating Delahunt by a margin of 37% to 34% district-wide.  The same McLaughlin and Associates poll showed that Malone’s lead balloons to 16% district-wide among those who say they are most likely to vote.

As a former statewide elected official and the 1988 Republican nominee against Ted Kennedy, the moderate-to-conservative Malone is the best-known GOPer in a race that so far includes two state legislators.

In making his consideration of retirement public, Delahunt made clear he had made no final decision.  As confident as Republicans feel about picking up his seat should it become open, there is a “catch” to an exit by the Democratic incumbent:  the district is the home of Joseph P. Kennedy, III, Ted’s grand-nephew and the son of former Rep. Joe Kennedy (D.-Mass).  Now 29, Joseph Kennedy is an assistant prosecutor in Cape and Islands and gets high marks as a public speaker.  With Patrick Kennedy retiring from the House, he may be the likeliest relative to keep the family name in Congress after all — if Delahunt retires and if he can beat what is shaping up to be a major Republican effort.

ho would have thought it could be happening in Massachusetts?