BOSTON (AP) — Joseph Kennedy III, the first of his famous political family's generation to seek elective office, defeated two little-known Democrats in Thursday's primary in Massachusetts' 4th Congressional District.
Kennedy, 31, will face Republican Sean Bielat in the November election for the seat currently held by longtime liberal Democratic Rep. Barney Frank, who is retiring.
Kennedy is the son of Joseph P. Kennedy II, who represented the state's 8th Congressional District for six terms from 1987-1999, and the grandson of the late Robert F. Kennedy. A graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School, the younger Kennedy served in the Peace Corps, worked as a prosecutor in Massachusetts and in 2006 co-managed with his twin brother Matt the final campaign of their great-uncle, Sen. Edward Kennedy, who died of cancer in 2009.
Unofficial early returns from Thursday's primary gave Kennedy around 90 percent of the vote. He was facing Herb Robinson, a software engineer and Rachel Brown, a follower of perennial presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche.
Kennedy, with the acknowledged help of family connections, raised more than $3 million for his campaign through mid-August, more than any incumbent in the Massachusetts House delegation. He has said he is proud of his family's legacy but determined to earn votes on his own.
"I got into this race because I believe this country was built on a simple promise: that each of us deserves a fair shot," he said in a statement Thursday night. "Nothing extra, nothing excessive — just the chance to make the most out of their own talent and hard work."
The past two years marked the first time since the election of his great-uncle John F. Kennedy to the House in 1946 that a member of the Kennedy family had not served in elective office in Washington.
Democrat Hoit Nelson, who voted for Kennedy in Brookline, said he didn't know much about the candidate but recognized the last name, and that was enough.
"Based on his being a member of the family, I can trust in him having, as part of his family culture, a commitment to public service," Nelson said.
Kennedy's victory came shortly after his cousin Caroline Kennedy addressed the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., telling delegates that the re-election of President Barack Obama is as important to the future of the country as the 1960 election of her father.
Bielat, a Norfolk businessman who won plaudits from Republicans for a spirited campaign against Frank two years ago, will again be the decided underdog in the November election. He beat Elizabeth Childs, a former state mental health commissioner from Brookline, and David Steinhof, a Fall River dentist.
Bielat said Thursday he would counter Kennedy's family legacy and huge fundraising advantage with retail politics.
"He hasn't gotten out and talked to people," Bielat said of Kennedy. "He's going to drop a lot of money on TV, but he has a very thin resume."
Bielat, who had raised about $476,000 through mid-August, also said he had agreed to a handful of debates with Kennedy.
Republicans point out the southern portion of the district includes several cities with large numbers of independents and conservative-leaning Democrats who voted for GOP Sen. Scott Brown in a January 2010 special election following Ted Kennedy's death.
Joe Kennedy said he was ready for the inevitable bumps and bruises that will come with the fall campaign, but in a recent interview he also sounded an echo of his great-uncle's legendary ability to reach across the aisle.
"Republicans aren't bad people," he said. "They've got some views that are legitimate ... and I'd like to think they believe the same of me."