WASHINGTON – It would be the battle of the dynasties: Kennedy versus Chafee. The son of a Democratic icon against the son of a revered Republican senator and governor in the nation's smallest state.
Rep. Patrick Kennedy (search) is considering a run against Sen. Lincoln Chafee (search) for the only congressional seat held by a Republican in heavily Democratic Rhode Island. The mere prospect of such a matchup next year has set tongues in motion.
"It would be a great race. The two are very evenly matched," said Brown University professor Darrell West, who has written a biography of Kennedy, 37. "Chafee is a sitting senator and people like him, but he has an 'R' next to his name in a 'D' state."
Kennedy, a six-term Democrat, initially ruled out running against Chafee, leaving the door open for his House colleague, Rep. James Langevin (search). But Langevin opted out earlier this week, and now Kennedy is taking a second look.
A Kennedy-Chafee race could thrust Rhode Island into the national political spotlight.
Last year, Republicans gleefully showcased Kennedy's father, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (search), D-Mass., in ads for GOP Senate candidates — hoping the liberal lightning rod would energize conservatives to vote against him.
"If Kennedy runs, every group that hates the Kennedys will try to influence the Senate race," said West.
Meanwhile, Democrats are equally eager to put the power of the Kennedy family on the Senate ballot in a friendly New England state. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Schumer of New York already has talked to Patrick Kennedy.
The younger Kennedy, 37, will say only that he has "been asked by people I respect and admire to consider running for the United States Senate." He said he has to balance that against his desire to continue to work on the House Appropriations Committee, where he can bring federal dollars back to the state.
Kennedy has been talking and meeting with family members, friends, staff and supporters, and may be readying a poll to gauge his support statewide.
Chafee, who turned 52 Saturday, is considered vulnerable. He was appointed to fill the vacancy left when his father, Sen. John Chafee, died in 1999. He won the seat in 2000 with 57 percent of the vote.
He has battled the GOP leadership, openly declared he did not vote for President Bush, and voted against the president on key war and budget issues. At the same time, he can attract some Democratic and independent voters with his strong support for environmental and abortion rights issues.
Chafee readily acknowledges the difficulties of being a red senator in a blue state. After the election last year, he said he will try to be as supportive as he can of his GOP leadership as he heads into the 2006 election cycle.
"If I need their help occasionally, I'm going to have to help them," he said. "But my convictions are dear to me and I think my state likes me to be independent."
A Brown University poll taken before Langevin dropped out showed him leading Chafee, 41 percent to 27 percent.
Kennedy's chief of staff, Sean Richardson, said a decision to run against Chafee is "not a decision that's going to be driven by polls. It's about where he believes he can do more for his constituents."