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The End of an Era?

In last week's primaries, the Kennedy mystique took a beating. Could it mean the end of the line for Camelot?

12:00 AM, Sep 17, 2002 • By RACHEL DICARLO
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THE KENNEDY MAGIC may be fading. Last Tuesday, in Maryland's gubernatorial primary, 21 percent of voters, offered a choice between Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and a retired grocery store clerk, named Robert Raymond Fustero, chose Fustero. Now Townsend faces a formidable challenger in four-term Congressman Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. The curtain may be starting to close on Camelot.

Some observers say the Kennedy "mystique" isn't translating well to a new generation of voters. "There certainly are limits to the Kennedy formula based on age and generation," Brown University professor Darrell West told the Baltimore Sun. "The current generation has a mixed memory of the Kennedys--they see the public service, but also the public problems."

"Maryland has a love-hate relationship with Kennedy-born politicos," Richard Vatz, a professor at Towson University, said. "There is the mystification [of the Kennedys] that wins some folks, but that is balanced by the resentment of perceived carpetbaggery."

Ehrlich's camp agrees. "The whole era of John F. Kennedy photos hanging on the wall is a history lesson, a respectful one, but it is a history lesson," Ehrlich spokeswoman Sharice DeLeaver said.

Townsend has also found that her name is being tarnished by its association with another: that of Governor Paris Glendening, the man who plucked her from obscurity eight years ago to be his running mate.

Glendening's popularity has waned, with the fiscal disaster Maryland now faces, his recent marriage to a staffer 25 years younger, and his vindictive radio attacks last week on popular former governor William Donald Schaefer, who is running for comptroller.

"Right now Glendening's record is presenting a problem for Kathleen Kennedy Townsend," Bethesda-based pollster Keith Haller said. "Some of her problems are coming from the personal woes of the current administration."

"[Glendening] is not very popular," DeLeaver said. "This was not necessarily a pro-Fustero vote, it was an anti-Townsend vote."

In another Maryland primary last Tuesday, Mark Kennedy Shriver found that his good looks and celebrity status were not enough as he lost to Christopher Van Hollen in the U.S. House of Representatives primary, 43 percent to 41 percent. The loss makes him only the second Kennedy ever to lose an election. (Townsend was the first.)

"Shriver had a tightrope to walk," Haller told the Sun. "The real Mark Shriver never fully came through to the electorate beyond his quasi-celebrity status."

Even Kennedy family contacts failed to save the day. Last year when a competing Congressional candidate was close to receiving an endorsement from the Sierra Club over Shriver, Senator Ted Kennedy (Shriver's uncle) had his chief of staff call the group's political director. The endorsement fell through. Senator Kennedy also introduced his nephew to wealthy labor leaders and helped him raise millions of dollars through Kennedy contacts. And Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg recorded a phone endorsement on his behalf.

"Too many voters felt Shriver lacked sufficient experience," Vatz said. "The outcome has provided further evidence . . . that campaign financial advantage and early name recognition is only part of the formula for victory."

Rachel DiCarlo is a staff assistant at The Weekly Standard.