Magazine article Insight on the News

Massachusetts: Has Ted Kennedy Finally Lost Weight with Voters?

Magazine article Insight on the News

Massachusetts: Has Ted Kennedy Finally Lost Weight with Voters?

Article excerpt

Newcomer Mitt Romney is giving Ted Kennedy the Senate race of his life, focusing on such issues as values, character and pork. Will Kennedy's name and statute pull him through?

It's a new world out there, and Sen. Kennedy is from a different political era. It's time for him to come home."

The speaker was W. Mitt Romney, Republican challenger for Edward Kennedy's Senate seat, greeting a crowd in Boston to celebrate his victory in the Republican primary. Massachusetts long has been a Democratic stronghold - so much so that it sometimes is called "The Peoples' Republic of Massachusetts." Although the governor, William Weld, is a Republican, Democrats outnumber Republicans 4-to-1. And Kennedy has had a lock on the Senate seat for 32 years.

But Romney had good reason to be confident. Just that morning, headlines had announced that the upstart outsider stood neck and neck with Kennedy in the polls.

One part horse race, one part beauty pageant and one part heavyweight title bout, the contest between Kennedy and Romney has potential repercussions far beyond the state's borders. What's at stake is not just a party victory but a victory of approach: forward-looking change vs. a reliance on past accomplishments. Now, with only days to go before the election, the candidates' close rankings would give nightmares to a Las Vegas bookie.

The two candidates are a study in contrasts. Romney has never held political office is a successful capitalist and entrepreneur - his ventures include the thriving Staples chain of office-supply stores - and is a conservative Mormon with a 25-year marriage and five children. Kennedy grew up walking and talking politics, which has been his only career. His former wife is suing him for a change in their divorce settlement, and he is notorious for a lifestyle marked by scandal, heavy drinking and womanizing.

While Kennedy relies on his long-standing popularity and congressional tenure, Romney is capitalizing on his "real world" appeal as an outsider. "The real people I talk to every day are interested in getting serious on crime, reforming welfare and creating jobs," he says. "They want to hear our differences on issues that matter in their lives."

Kennedy, on the other hand, largely has relied on name recognition and his family's long record in public life. But some say that record doesn't carry the weight it once did. "This is the first time in Sen. Kennedy's history where the majority of voters in Massachusetts don't have a memory of his brothers," says J. Gregory Payne, chairman of the division of communication studies at Boston's Emerson College. And to make matters worse, the Kennedy camp, say many, has blundered by getting out of the chute late and clutching a very negative strategy.

"Mitt Romney is the right candidate in the right place at the right time," says Gary Koops, director of communications for the GOP's Senatorial Campaign Committee. "Ted Kennedy would be running a perfect campaign if it were 1974. He is talking about trying to deliver the pork. But while he's talking about pork, Romney is talking about stripping down government, creating jobs, tax benefits and welfare reform. And the people are listening."

And so far, there has been a lot to listen to on both sides. Kennedy has called Romney antilabor - this in a strong pro-labor state - because of his company's business dealings; Romney counters that Kennedy is out of touch with the realities of business. …

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