Joseph P. Kennedy III, a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, clinched the Democratic nomination to replace U.S. Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts lawmaker who is leaving Congress after 32 years.
Kennedy, 31, easily defeated two challengers in a primary election that provided the first ballot-box test for his drive to take up what many in the Bay State see as his family’s business in Washington. With 84 percent of precinct counted, the Associated Press said he collected 91 percent of the vote.
At least one member of the storied clan served in Congress or the White House continuously for 63 years until Patrick Kennedy’s retirement as a Rhode Island representative in January 2011. The newcomer is the son of former congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, and served as a county prosecutor in suburban Boston before jumping into the race for Frank’s seat in February.
“It’s hard to understand, but voters just love Kennedys,” said John Berg, who teaches politics at Suffolk University in Boston. “The mystique still lingers.”
Kennedy will face Republican Sean Bielat in the Nov. 6 final. Bielat lost to Frank in 2010. Frank, a Democrat who turned 72 in March, said in November that he wouldn’t seek re-election after the once-a-decade redistricting process rearranged his Fourth District. The seat represents some of the state’s wealthiest communities, including Brookline and Newton, and its poorest, such as Fall River.
“Kennedy will walk away with it,” Berg said before the polls closed. “Various Kennedys have done things to screw it up, but he hasn’t, and I think he’ll be fine.”
The family’s latest entrant to political life follows a rich legacy that includes the service of his grandfather’s brothers, President John F. Kennedy and U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, who died in office in 2009. His campaign reflects those connections, raising more than $3 million in donations, more than any other House candidate in Massachusetts, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.
A graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School, the younger Kennedy served in the Peace Corps -- an organization created by President Kennedy -- in the Dominican Republic before starting as a prosecutor in Barnstable County, home to the Hyannis Port seaside compound owned for generations by his family. He later joined the Middlesex County district attorney’s office in Cambridge.
He defeated Herb Robinson and Rachel Brown in the Democratic primary.