Menu

Politics

SENATE

With a Last Name Like Kennedy, Libertarian Could Be Spoiler in Massachusetts

This combo made from file photos shows Republican candidate, Massachusetts State Senator Scott Brown; Democratic candidate, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and Joseph L. Kennedy. (AP)

In most years, a Kennedy running for Senate would demand front-page coverage and sentimental recollections of Camelot and America's most storied political family.

But this year, it's all about a plain old Joe.

The candidacy of Joe Kennedy, a little-known insurgent candidate who bears no relation -- or resemblance -- to Massachusetts' first family of politics is raising the possibility that some confused voters may pull the lever for him in Tuesday's special election for the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat.

The 38-year-old information technology executive says his last name has not given him an advantage in the race thus far, but he left open the possibility that it could help on Tuesday.

"I don't know how many votes we'll get because of the uninformed voters," he said in an interview, noting that he has taken pains to let voters know he bears no relation to the Camelot dynasty. 

"I'm not going to be delusional," he added. "There will be hard-core Kennedy voters who will pull the wrong lever."

Kennedy's candidacy is reminiscent of the plot of the Eddie Murphy movie, "The Distinguished Gentleman," in which a con man played by Murphy sweeps into office by exploiting the fact that he has the same name as the congressman who died and left the seat open.

In Joe Kennedy's case, though, he's far from the front of the pack. A Suffolk University survey released late Thursday showed Republican Scott Brown with 50 percent of the vote, Democrat Martha Coakley with 46 percent and Kennedy, the libertarian candidate, with 3 percent.

With the race at a statistical dead heat, the number of votes Kennedy attracts could sway the outcome of the high-stakes race. In an ironic twist, if enough longtime Kennedy supporters pull the lever for Kennedy, it could doom President Obama's plan to overhaul the U.S. health care system -- a goal Ted Kennedy championed for decades until his death last summer.

Like his Republican opponent, Brown, Joe Kennedy is no fan of the Democratic version of health care reform. He says he believes health care reform is headed for inevitable passage, but he has vowed, if elected, to repeal the legislation "one piece at a time and bring every cent back to the taxpayers."

Coakley, the state's attorney general, has pledged to be the crucial 60th vote for health care reform. But Brown has promised to become the 41st vote against it if he is elected, which would sustain a Republican filibuster and kill the bill.

The race has become so close that Obama will make an 11th-hour appearance for Coakley on Sunday in an effort to put her over the top. But Kennedy's performance in the election two days later could tip the balance, political analysts say.

"He could be the Ralph Nader of this particular race," Boston University political scientist Thomas Whalen told FoxNews.com.

"No one ever though he would be a factor in this race," said Mary Ann Marsh, a Massachusetts-based Democratic strategist and adviser to John Kerry's '04 presidential campaign. "When you look at the polls, he could be."

But, in yet another twist, these analysts believe Kennedy's libertarian views could make him a spoiler for Brown, and not Coakley. Kennedy's name recognition, Whalen said, is a "little bit overrated," because only diehard supporters are going to cast ballots Tuesday.

Marsh told FoxNews.com the polling data show that "it's people who are mad about government spending, real fiscal conservatives who are taking their anger out with him." She said Kennedy represents a "protest vote" for them.

Kennedy has come under pressure -- he said he's received five death threats -- to withdraw because of his potential spoiler role. But he said those threats haven't come from Coakley supporters, as he expected. Instead, he said, they've come from Brown backers.

He said Brown supporters have gotten emotional and are "blaming me for a Brown loss -- and the advancement of Obamacare."

Kennedy said he's the only candidate against government-run health care, because Brown supports former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's version of public health care.

"The funny thing about the Brown supporters, they're so unbelievably clueless," he said. "If I withdrew from the race today, my vote would be split 60-40 going to Coakley."

Whalen expects Kennedy to get 3 to 4 percent of the vote on Tuesday to help Coakley pull out a slim victory. Marsh said the outcome will depend on independent voter turnout.

Health care reform is not the only reason Kennedy is in the race. He said he decided last February to run for  Senate in 2012 after growing sick of government spending under both the Bush and Obama administrations. But when Ted Kennedy died in August, he pushed up his plan.

He collected 13,000 signatures on petitions to get his name on the ballot as an independent.

Kennedy said he knows his chances of winning are slim. But he hopes his candidacy will send a message to the major political parties.

"If I ruin your race, good," he said. "You'll put up a better candidate next time. I'm happy to drop out of any race for someone I can vote for."

FOX NEWS FIRST NEWSLETTER

Daily must-read stories from the biggest name in politics

Subscribe Get the full text emailed to you daily