October 2, 1994, Sunday, NASSAU AND SUFFOLK EDITION; NEWS; Pg. A04
By Al Gordon. STAFF CORRESPONDENT
- Sen. Edward M. Kennedy stands before a standing-room-only crowd at Harvard
University’s Kennedy School of Government. “I know why you’re really
here,” he says, “and I’m glad he’s here, too.” The audience, mostly
students, cheers. In the background, John F. Kennedy Jr. gives a shy smile.
is less cheering - none, in fact - as the Massachusetts Democrat speaks on civil
rights. His talk is disjointed and punctuated with references to sections of
federal legislation unfamiliar to the audience. He is right; the audience is
there to see his nephew.
has come to this for the 62-year-old senator: after 32 years in office, after
never falling below 60 percent of the vote in six previous campaigns, Ted
Kennedy is in political trouble.
Mitt Romney, 47, a venture capitalist and management consultant, is dead even
with Kennedy in the polls, and political experts see momentum flowing Romney’s
way. The son of former Michigan Gov. George Romney, the candidate has positioned
himself as an anti-”government intrusion” conservative against Kennedy, the
quintessential traditional liberal.
senator has been forced into launching personal attack ads against his rival -
in previous campaigns, Kennedy barely mentioned opponents by name - and into
seeking the glamour coattails of others such as JFK Jr. and first lady Hillary
Rodham Clinton. Before, Kennedy was always the candidate with charisma.
surveys done after the Sept. 20 primary, a Boston Globe/WBZ poll showed Kennedy
with 48 percent of the vote compared with 46 percent for Romney. A Boston
Herald/WCVB poll put Romney ahead 44 percent to 42 percent. Both results were
within the polls’ margin of error, translating into a statistical dead heat.
Voters gave Kennedy good marks for his effectiveness in Washington, and the two
candidates had roughly equal ratings on major issues. But voters told pollsters
by a 3-2 margin that they thought Kennedy had been in office too long.
“If the election were held today, Kennedy would lose. That’s the definition of trouble,” said John Ellis, a Boston-based advertising and polling consultant and nephew of former President George Bush. The younger, thinner, athletic-looking Romney has done better on TV than the overweight, ruddy-faced, surprisingly stiff Kennedy, Ellis said. “Visually it’s the difference between [political] life and death.”
Michael Goldman, a Democratic political consultant, agrees that Kennedy is in “serious trouble.” He said Kennedy should prevail if he can remind voters of how his clout in Washington “still matters to the lives of working people in the state.” But he agrees that the contest has become a referendum on Kennedy’s record, philosophy and character. “The race is mainly about Ted Kennedy,” Goldman said.
long has faced “character questions,” especially after the 1969
Chappaquiddick scandal, in which he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor motor vehicle
charges after an accident that resulted in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, a
Kennedy campaign worker. But his popularity began to erode sharply after the
1991 rape trial of nephew William Kennedy Smith. Its picture of a carousing
senator made him the target of jokes and sent his poll ratings plummeting.
standing has recovered somewhat, helped by his marriage to Victoria Reggie
Kennedy, a Washington lawyer who has been prominently featured in his campaign.
But his first wife, Joan, is trying to reopen their divorce settlement, keeping
the senator’s private life on public display.
campaign has taken an ugly turn, defying the traditional caution against mixing
politics and religion. Romney has been a local leader in the Mormon Church,
which has only a small membership in Massachusetts. Kennedy surrogates and the
senator himself have seized upon the Mormons’ previous practice of excluding
blacks from leadership positions and their current practice of barring women as
leaders as indicating that the Republican candidate has condoned discrimination.
led to Romney invoking the memory of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 struggle to
overcome anti-Catholic sentiment. “I am sad to see Ted Kennedy taking away his
brother’s victory,” Romney said. He said he opposes discrimination in any
form, but “will not publicly criticize [my church] on matters of theology.”
next day, Kennedy issued a statement saying “I believe that religion should
not be an issue in this campaign.” The Kennedy campaign, however, has not
backed off charges that no blacks are partners in Romney’s investment firm. A
Romney spokesman said blacks have been partners in the past.
Manning, a Romney strategist, accuses the Kennedy campaign of “desperation
tactics.” Kennedy partisans maintain that Romney started the negativity with
commercials on family values, which they see as thinly veiled efforts to take
shots at Kennedy’s personal life.
senator’s normal edge in campaign funds has been neutralized by Romney’s
willingness to put his own money into the race. The Republican has put up $ 1.8
million and raised another $ 2 million. Kennedy has raised more than $ 4.5
experts believe the Kennedy campaign has made some tactical errors. The campaign
let Romney’s TV commercials go unanswered for more than a month, and when it
took to the air, it focused on crime, an area where Romney who, unlike Kennedy,
supports the death penalty and tougher mandatory sentences, has an edge.
Republicans remain only a tiny minority in Massachusetts, and Kennedy retains a
solid core of loyalists. Romney has yet to be pushed beyond generalities on the
issues, and his attacks on a state icon could provoke a backlash.
strategists think Kennedy can win if he can get the focus of the campaign away
from his character and back on his ability to protect federal support for key
sources of Massachusetts jobs such as education, health, and defense
the senator’s problem was demonstrated this summer when a Boston TV station
contrasted footage of today’s aging senator with a more youthful and vigorous
Ted Kennedy giving his “the dream shall never die” speech at the 1980
Democratic national convention. After so many years in the spotlight, Edward M.
Kennedy must run as much against himself as against Mitt Romney.
Copyright 1994, Newsday Inc.