Kennedy dynasty on the line in US Senate race

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Boston (AFP)

A legendary American political dynasty is at stake Tuesday with Joe Kennedy III, the grandnephew of assassinated president John F Kennedy, challenging a savvy political veteran for his seat in the US Senate.

The contentious race, which pits two well-liked progressives with similar political positions against one another, is coming down to the wire in a busy Democratic primary in Massachusetts.

The 39-year-old Kennedy, grandson of slain attorney general Robert F. Kennedy, is part of the family's fourth generation to carry the political torch, entering the House of Representatives in 2013.

Voters in Massachusetts do not see him purely as the scion of an intensely political clan but as someone who has "thrown everything I've got" into the contest, Kennedy insisted.

"Every race I've ever run, I've made it clear it's me on the ballot," Kennedy told AFP as he stumped for 11th-hour votes in Boston, where he wore a mask while fist-bumping police officers and truck drivers and hugging people on the streets.

"You're not going to get my father or my grandfather or any of his brothers or sisters. This is on me."

At 74, his rival Ed Markey is a generation apart, a progressive political workhorse who spent 37 years in the House before rising to the Senate in 2013.

He has led Kennedy in recent polling, but "there's nothing guaranteed," he told reporters Monday while campaigning in Brookline, the Boston suburb where JFK was born 103 years ago.

- American royalty -

For the Kennedy clan, much is on the line. For all but two years since 1947 -- nearly a third of the history of the United States -- a Kennedy has served in elective office.

They are the quintessential American dynasty, one of the closest things the country has to royalty.

Like his presidential great-uncle, who once served in the Senate, the lanky, red-haired Kennedy is running on the promise of a new generation.

And he has received the rare endorsement of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who in 2018 appointed Kennedy to deliver the Democratic response to President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech.

Markey, who has framed his candidacy on an anti-establishment platform, has powerful supporters too.

They include Senator Elizabeth Warren and rising star progressive congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with whom Markey co-authored the Green New Deal on tackling climate change.

"When it comes to progressive leadership, it's not your age that counts, it's the age of your ideas," the 30-year-old lawmaker known as AOC said in an ad for Markey.

Should he win Tuesday, Kennedy is virtually assured victory in November's general election, but a primary loss would leave him out of Congress come January, as he can not be on the ballot as a candidate for both Senate and House.

The Democratic National Convention last month hinted at a the Kennedy clan's possible political future though, when it aired a video message from JFK's daughter Caroline Kennedy and her 27-year-old son Jack Kennedy Schlossberg.

"We can reach these new frontiers, but only with a president who asks what he can do for our country," Schlossberg said, echoing his grandfather's 1961 acceptance speech when he famously said: "Ask not what your country can do for you."

No Kennedy has lost an election in Massachusetts, and Joe III portrays himself as a champion for the working class and poor.

"It's being more engaged, it's giving your heart and soul to the seat," he told the Boston Globe.

With the coronavirus pandemic prompting record numbers of mail-in ballots, Massachusetts officials warn that the race might not be called until Wednesday.