Lebanon, New Hampshire — Poised in the corner of an unassuming third-floor office suite, the heir apparent to one of America's most enduring political dynasties touted his pick for president.
"If I didn't think [Elizabeth] Warren would make a good president..." Representative Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts paused mid-sentence. "I am wholeheartedly behind her. I stand by her," the 38-year-old Democratic lawmaker said emphatically, standing before a panel wallpapered with "NH for Warren" and "Women for Warren" placards.
On the surface, there was nothing particularly remarkable about a Massachusetts congressman touting a Massachusetts senator in her bid for the White House. But Kennedy, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, is considering a primary challenge against the state's current senator, Ed Markey, who just weeks ago earned a glowing endorsement from none other than Warren.
"Senator Elizabeth Warren here," the presidential candidate said in a video on YouTube, "to throw my full support behind my great partner in the United State Senate, Ed Markey."
Huddled with a gaggle of reporters around the air conditioning unit in Warren's latest campaign field office on Thursday, Kennedy said he's had "a number of conversations" with Warren since announcing his interest in a potential Senate bid in mid-August, but declined to elaborate on their exchanges.
"I cannot imagine she has given one iota of stress or thought to a decision about this race at all," he quipped, referring to his impending choice. "I think she has bigger fish to fry than this."
The four-term Democratic congressman endorsed Warren back in February, and visited New Hampshire's Upper Valley to rally supporters and organizers days before the New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention, the state's first cattle call of the 2020 primary cycle.
In his remarks, he recalled his first day at Harvard Law School as a student of Warren, who was then a professor. He said she quizzed him on the meaning of the word "assumpsit," a 14th-century legal term that was included in the course's required reading. Kennedy didn't know the word, and laughed while reciting the story to a few dozen local lawmakers and volunteers.
"Now you can't Google the word without seeing my name pop up," he said, accurately.
Despite their lengthy relationship, Kennedy said he's not offended that Warren threw her support behind Markey, a decision she made before the young lawmaker considered running for Senate.
"Primaries get messy. And I totally understand that. I respect her and the position of other folks in the delegation," he said, adding quickly, "That's not a major factor in my decision."
The decision, Kennedy contended, cannot come soon enough. "I guarantee you the person who would like to come to a conclusion is me," he said through a smile.
"I'm working through it," he said, taking a breath. The youngest member of the Kennedy political dynasty told reporters that a possible challenge to Markey was "not on my radar screen" until very recently.
"I have some family issues I have to work through and then obviously, some issues around the state," he said. "It's not just a question of if you want it. You've got to see if you can pull together the support to do it."
As for his timing, he noted simply, "Hopefully not much longer." Kennedy said he's been encouraged by support he's received travelling across the state.
"I need to gauge whether I'm going to be able to pull the support together that's necessary in order to win what's going to be a very tough and spirited race," he said.
Massachusetts hosts its State Democratic Party Convention on September 14. While the gathering isn't an official deadline, it could pressure Kennedy to make his decision before state officials and lawmakers convene to set forth a party agenda.
Asked if he'd be running for Senate on a message of generational change, Kennedy interpreted the question in the context of the presidency, reverting the attention back to Warren.
"I don't think it needs to be generational change at all," Kennedy said. "I think you've got, in Senator Warren, a candidate that has identified the structural inequities we need to break in order to create a more egalitarian, stronger society where everyone has the opportunity to succeed. So I don't think it has to be generational at all."
As for polls showing Warren neck-and-neck with her colleague and longtime friend Senator Bernie Sanders, Kennedy shrugged.
"Given that it's September, looking at any polling, I'd throw that right out the window," he said. "What you're [seeing] from the Democratic Party writ large is a big debate around those ideas. And you've got a bunch of candidates that have different ideas. That's exactly what we want. Put those ideas before the voters. Back them up passionately. Engage in that debate. Let the chips fall where they may."
At the tail end of his gaggle, this reporter called out to Kennedy. Did he regret not jumping in to the 2020 presidential primary himself? "Nope!" he exclaimed without missing a beat, before bursting into laughter.
Sarah Ewall-Wice contributed to this report.
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