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Kennedy name carries weight in Connecticut race

October 19, 2014

BRANFORD, Connecticut (AP) — Ted Kennedy Jr., the son of the late Massachusetts senator and nephew of a president and attorney general, is making his first run for public office as a candidate for state senator in Connecticut.

Though Kennedy insists he’s looking no further than the open seat he’s running for in the state where he’s lived for 30 years, his name has been floated for numerous political offices over the years, both here and in the family’s home state of Massachusetts. In 2012, Kennedy was mentioned as a possible candidate for then-U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s seat from Massachusetts after he was chosen to be Secretary of State.

But the 53-year-old environmental lawyer insists the 36-member Connecticut State Senate is what ultimately makes sense for him, in his first election campaign.

“I think being a state senator is an important job,” said Kennedy, who has lived with his wife Kiki and two children in the shoreline community of Branford for about 20 years. “To me, being the people’s representative in Hartford is a huge responsibility.”

Even Kennedy seems surprised by the support he’s received in the 12th Senate District, where five of six small towns are currently run by Republicans.

More than 50 interns last summer signed up to volunteer for his campaign. More than 60 supporters have opened up their homes to host “house parties,” inviting friends, family and neighbors to meet the candidate. Three of the parties were held by members of a group calling itself “Republicans for Kennedy.”

“He was the soccer coach when my kids were small,” said Kathy Beebe of Branford, an employee of a boat yard Kennedy toured on Friday. “He’s a very real person.”

Kennedy’s Republican opponent is Bruce Wilson Jr, a school board member. Wilson knew he faced a challenge when he entered the race against a Kennedy, but didn’t quite realize the power of the Kennedy name.

“I’ve had people say to me, ‘I want to be part of electing the next president of the United States,’” Wilson said. “They’re thinking that they’re in on the ground floor of the next Kennedy ascending to the White House.”

Both Kennedy and Wilson insist this election could be close. Unaffiliated voters make up the largest single chunk of voters in what is considered a swing district.

Wilson, 50, the former CEO of a Connecticut medical manufacturing company, said he believes the Kennedy aura has dimmed in recent months as voters learn more about his Democratic opponent.

Wilson has criticized Kennedy for saying in a local interview that “a combination of cuts and new taxes” is needed to balance the state budget. A recent mailer from Wilson’s campaign asks: “Are you willing to pay more for a Kennedy?”

“I think most people who might feel a little enamored by the name are also capable of looking at the issues,” Wilson said.

As the scion of the most famous Democratic Party family in America, Kennedy said, ”″I’m very proud of my family’s legacy.”

“My father and my uncles really set very high expectations ... that all of us should make a contribution to society,” said Kennedy. His uncles were President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who later was elected to the Senate from New York State.

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