Approval Ratings Fall for Rhode Island Rep. Kennedy
He fell from his spot as the Democratic Party's rising star last year and became yet another Kennedy bad boy within six short months. Today, Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy's rapid plunge into notoriety is still a hot topic — as are the marked drops in his approval ratings.
"When he first came into office in 1994, people had visions of Camelot, his uncle's record of civil rights," said Rhode Island talk radio host John DePetro. "They've gotten the scandal Kennedy."
His low approval ratings show for the past, rocky year. Before several consecutive embarrassing stories about his personal life emerged in the media, the congressman enjoyed the highest rating of any Rhode Island politician: 63 percent. Now, at under 50 percent, he's just barely staying afloat.
Kennedy's troubles started last March when he revealed that he took prescription drugs for depression. Previously, he'd acknowledged that he went to rehab as a teenager for cocaine addiction.
"I myself have suffered from depression. I have been treated by psychiatrists. Oh my god, it's out. That's another skeleton in the closet," Kennedy said then.
That same month, he made headlines again when he was accused of assaulting an airport security guard. The two got into a fight at Los Angeles International when Kennedy tried to fit an oversized suitcase on the metal-detector machine. A surveillance video shows Kennedy shoving the guard, Della Patton, when she tried to stop him from squeezing the bag through the X-ray.
Patton filed a battery complaint against the congressman, claiming he injured her arm. Kennedy admitted that he was rude but denied hurting Patton. Still, he offered to settle for $25,000 — an offer that Patton refused. Kennedy agreed to apologize to her for the incident, and no charges were filed.
Next came reports of Kennedy trashing a rented yacht while it was in his possession. Atlantic Navigation Co. in Connecticut said in November that Kennedy did $28,000 worth of damage last summer to a yacht he chartered from the company. Kennedy initially called the boat a "lemon" and refused to pay, but his insurance company settled for an undisclosed amount.
Then stories surfaced about a Coast Guard rescue boat arriving during an argument with a girlfriend on that same chartered yacht in July. The Providence Journal broke the news, reporting that Kennedy's distraught lady friend had to be escorted off the boat by the Coast Guard after the pair had fought.
Kennedy's chief of staff, Tony Marcella, said the woman wasn't in any danger and the Coast Guard was wrong to respond to her call.
"These aren't big sins; these are small sins greatly magnified," said Kennedy adviser Ray Rickman.
Yet each new tale left another black mark on the congressman's reputation, shaking the public's confidence in him.
"There have been enough things to come to suggest a pattern of bad behavior and that's something he has to worry about, that voters will put the pieces together into a portrait that is unflattering," Kennedy biographer Darrell West, the author of Patrick Kennedy: The Rise to Power, told The Associated Press.
Kennedy's strategists say that greedy opportunists trying to get money out of the congressman are to blame for the highly-publicized incidents. The real story, they say, is that he raised more than $60 million for Democrats last year. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, under Kennedy's chairmanship, nearly tripled the amount of money raised, from $37 million to $97 million, in the past two years.
"We kept up with the Republicans for the first time in modern history. That's really quite an accomplishment," Rickman said.
But that fund-raising kept Kennedy on the road and away from his constituents. Last year, he had a favorable rating of 63 percent, the highest for any Rhode Island politician. Today, that number is below 50 percent, leaving him vulnerable in the next election.
"That clearly is what Kennedy is worried about now: a well-known, well-financed challenger coming along," said West.
Enter Lincoln Almond — the well-liked Republican governor who last week said he's open to the idea of running against the congressman.
Kennedy declined to be interviewed for this story, but has been quoted as saying he's hoping for a "fresh start." His friends say that will involve concentrating more on policy and less on politics — not to mention spending much more time in his home state of Rhode Island between now and the next election.
— Fox News' Alisyn Camerota and Catherine Donaldson-Evans contributed to this report