A lot of money was raised and a good time was had by all at the Compound
By Jack Coleman
HE KENNEDY COMPOUND, HYANNISPORT - If the same Ted Kennedy who spoke at a clambake fund-raiser on Saturday campaigns for re-election next year, Republicans will find it difficult to wrest control of the Senate seat that Kennedy has held for 43 years.
Before addressing 500 supporters in a huge white tent on his front lawn, Kennedy and his wife, Vicki, along with nephews, Matt Kennedy, 24, (one of Joe Kennedy II's twin sons) and Stephen Smith Jr., 48, (eldest son of Jean and the late Stephen Smith), greeted supporters in a long line extending up Marchant Avenue.
Those attending were shuttled to the compound on charter buses from the Sheraton Four Seasons about a mile away, because you will sooner find a parking space in midtown Manhattan than anywhere near the Kennedy compound.
On a wide expanse of lawn against a backdrop of Nantucket Sound, children darted about and their happy noise provided frequent background din during the event.
$150 a pop, families $400
Invitations had requested donations of $150 per person or $400 for a family, with no limit on size, appropriate for a man who was one of nine children.
And many of those attending chose the latter option, as could be readily seen not just by the dozens of children on hand, but by several parents with strollers for toddlers and infants.
Based on the requested donations and size of the turnout - one Kennedy staffer said they were inundated with 3,000 RSVPs - the fund-raiser generated at least $50,000 for Kennedy's nascent campaign for re-election next year, not counting the costs of food, entertainment from saxophonist John Salerno and raising a large tent on the lawn where Kennedys have played touch football for generations.
A second fund-raiser was held at the compound that night, drawing a comparably-sized group and an undetermined amount of money.
Not that Kennedy is short of money at this stage of the game. Not counting the weekend's fund-raisers, Kennedy has $7.5 million to draw on from previous campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based campaign finance watchdog.
The Senator rises to the occasion
Only once since Kennedy was first elected in 1962 to the seat previously held by his brother, John F. Kennedy, then the president, has an opponent challenging Kennedy gotten more than 40 percent the vote. That candidate's name? Mitt Romney, back in 1994, running strong enough to draw even with Kennedy in polling around Labor Day.
The threat posed by Romney was substantial enough to shake Kennedy of his lethargy and go on to beat Romney by seven points.
Chastened by Romney's defeat, the GOP fielded a lackluster candidate six years later, a lawyer named Jack E. Robinson whose largely self-financed campaign was also an exercise in largely self-inflicted injuries. Kennedy went on to win the race with 58 percent of the vote.
But the 1994 campaign remains as a potential template for challengers to Kennedy, and to Kennedy staffers themselves. Because it wasn't until after Labor Day that year did the natural politician in Kennedy emerge - best in the family, as JFK used to say.
This was the same politician who stood before 500 of his supporters at Saturday afternoon's clambake fundraiser at the compound. An audience of 500 ardent supporters is hardly the arena of political combat, but they are his people. A consummate politician like Kennedy knows that campaigns are won on the strength of motivating those inclined to support you anyway, and getting them to actually do it, as George W. Bush did against John Kerry last year.
Meet the family
In his remarks, Kennedy first introduced several relatives - his wife and her parents, Doris and Edmund Reggie, a retired Louisiana judge and former National Democratic Committee; his nephews, Matt Kennedy and Stephen Smith; and his stepson, Curran Raclin, 21.
Kennedy said his stepson, who graduated from Boston College last year, had signed up the day before for City Year, a Boston-based civic service organization that provided the model for the Clinton-era AmeriCorps, which was modeled after JFK's Peace Corps.
"That's the good news," Kennedy said in his remarks from the stage. "There is challenging news on the Red Sox-Yankees" (widespread groans) "So far, it's just gotten started, and the Yankees have three runs" (more groans).
But the impending Red Sox loss did little to dampen the enthusiasm of Kennedy's supporters, who enjoyed a meal of boiled lobster, clam chowder, steamers, hamburgers and hot dogs, potato salad and ice cream for dessert, along with a well-stocked open bar.
Not to worry about the Red Sox, Kennedy said, "it's all going to be fine. Now, are you happy where you sat today? (cheers) "Well, if you're not happy, it's because FEMA did the seating" (laughter).
Speaking of the hapless former administrator, "at least Michael Brown at FEMA had an exit strategy, which is more than this administration has for Iraq." (cheers, applause)
"I've been honored to represent this great state since 1962 and it's been the greatest public honor of my life," Kennedy said. "I first ran for office, I was 30 years old and I said, 'what the United States Senate needs is a young man with new ideas.' Now I run, at 73 years old, and what I say is there is nothing like age and experience" (more laughter and applause, the last time I'll mention when it happened).
Sage advise from Fritz Hollings
"People ask me how I run - I remember old Fritz Hollings, from South Carolina," Kennedy said, his voice emulating Hollings' molasses-thick Southern drawl. " Fritz Hollings used to say, 'Ah run haaarrd, and 'Ah run scaarreed, and 'Ah hope 'Ah run unoppozed!"
Kennedy thanked his supporters for attending, describing the setting as "a very special place."
"As all of you know, this is where all of us, in our family, grew up and it has extraordinary memories about all of my family and it's the place where all the Kennedys called home."
"I don'! t run against someone for the United States Senate, I always run for the office and I feel very deeply that the people in the state are entitled to a candidate every time, every six years," Kennedy said. His constituents "ought to know what I've tried to do over the previous six years and what I intend to do over the future years."
One of the best reasons to hold office now, Kennedy said, at the start of "the life science century," is that so many medical treatments and therapies have helped his family, "I want to see them benefit other families as well."
The Bush administration has been hobbled by "corruption, ineptitude, incompetency, an administration where everyone refuses to take responsibility for anything any of them do," Kennedy charged.
As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Kennedy said, he has learned of unending mistakes by Bush and those around him in combatting the insurgency in Iraq "and American lives are bearing the brunt of this."
"I'm n! ot for cutting and running, but it does seem to me that there has to be a time when we are able to bring our American soldiers home, with honor," Kennedy said. "And the earlier we are prepared to do that, the better."
"This was a war of choice and I think there are very few votes that any of us cast in the United States Senate that are more important than the issues of war and peace," Kennedy said, and his vote was "against going to war in Iraq," a line that drew the most enthusiastic and extended response.
On the homefront, the energy bill approved by Congress and signed by President Bush "didn't do one single thing, in terms of gasoline or the cost of gasoline," said Kennedy, who voted against the bill.
"We've got 300,000 troops protecting the Middle East countries," Kennedy said, his voice rising in anger. "Why in the world don't they respond by giving America some help and assistance when we go to the gas pumps?! Maybe someone can explain that to me."
"At the same ! time, we see the cost of gasoline going up and all the challenges that are happening with the airlines," Kennedy said.
How about Cape Wind, Mr. Kennedy?
Anyone waiting for Kennedy to comment on Cape Wind's proposed wind farm, which Kennedy opposes, waited in vain. The subject never came up in his remarks, spoken at a venue from which the Cape Wind turbines may eventually be visible from about six miles away.
But those following Kennedy's words and actions when it comes to the proposal may have reason to believe he is less adamant in his opposition than he was in recent years, while his nephew, attorney and environmental activist Robert K. Kennedy Jr., appears to be stiffening his resolve against Cape Wind.
For example, Senator Kennedy voted against an amendment to the energy bill sponsored by Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander that would have stripped wind power developers of a crucial federal tax credit. The amendment, which Sen. John Kerry also opposed, was voted down by a 2-1 margin.
More recently, Senator Kennedy can hardly be described as leading the charge in support of a House-passed measure that would require the commandant of the Coast Guard to sign off projects like Cape Wind as not posing a threat to navigation.
The measure has yet to go before the Senate. How Kennedy votes on it could indicate a sea change in his view of Cape Wind and, in turn, the views of many others.