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Ted Kennedy Leaves Nothing To Chance

It was a dog day at Fenway Park as Senator Edward Kennedy and his Portuguese Water Dog, Splash, visited the old ballyard Wednesday for a school reading event.

The senator read a portion of his new children's book, "My Senator and Me: A Dogs-Eye View of Washington D.C.," to a group of Boston-area school children.

The picture book takes readers through a day in the life of the senator, told from the perspective of Splash.

Joining Kennedy was Red Sox outfielder Gabe Kapler, who is recuperating from a torn Achilles tendon. Kapler swapped his baseball bat for a tennis racket and hit tennis balls toward the "Green Monster" for Splash to fetch.

Not a bad photo-op for the Democratic Party stalwart, who is doing something very familiar: running for re-election.

He's been in office since 1962 but the 74-year-old senator is taking nothing for granted.

This fall, Kennedy faces a little known Republican challenger, Belmont language school owner Kenneth Chase. But the stakes could not be much higher for the Massachusetts Democratic Party, which is trying to regain control of the governor's office for the first time since 1991.

On Friday night, Kennedy addresses the Democratic State Convention in Worcester, and the party is hoping some of the famous Kennedy family legwork pays dividends across the fall ballot.

"They're the backbone of the Democratic Party. I don't think we would be successful without them," said Philip Johnston, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, whose offices are next to Kennedy's campaign headquarters.

During the August congressional recess, Kennedy also expects to barnstorm the state, an effort that will continue nationally this fall on behalf of Senate candidates, and across Massachusetts on behalf of the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

"Political leaders say that 'this is the most important election of their lifetime,' and I've certainly have thought when I campaigned in other elections that was true," Kennedy, 74, told The Associated Press in an interview. "That really is true with this election, because of the leadership we have at the presidential level and in the Senate and House of Representatives."

Kennedy is seeking his eighth full term after a career that began when he won the Senate seat once held by his late brother, President John F. Kennedy.

To date, Kennedy has:

  • bought $50,000 worth of seats for the party's Roosevelt fundraising dinner;
  • paid the salaries of the political and field staff for the party's Victory '06 effort, which is designed to boost candidates up and down the ticket;
  • helped underwrite and organize five field offices that will open in June - four months ahead of schedule;
  • collected more than 60,000 signatures to get on the fall ballot - even though only 10,000 are required - as a means of contacting and communicating with potential voters.

    Party officials say Kennedy has worked on behalf of the party during his past reelection campaigns but the time and energy he committed was often lessened by demands of his own campaign, particularly when he faced his stiffest reelection challenge in 1994 from now Gov. Mitt Romney.

    Kennedy, a liberal Democrat that conservative Republicans love to hate, argues his party now is poised to regain control of the Senate if it can complete strong campaigns in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee and Missouri.

    Closer to home, he also is hopeful about the gubernatorial race, which will pit Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, a Republican, against two independent and third-party candidates and one of three Democrats seeking the party nomination: Tom Reilly, Deval Patrick and Chris Gabrieli.

    "They're all different, but they all would be superb on a ticket," the senator said.

    A spokesman for the Massachusetts Republican Party did not return a call seeking comment, while Healey's campaign deferred to the state party for any response.

    Johnston said he believes Democrats will benefit, in part, because Kennedy does not face a prominent challenger, as he has during some of his past campaigns. He already has $8.7 million in his campaign account.

    "He can help raise money across the country and make appearances for Senate candidates, in particular. That explains why there was significant effort put into trying to persuade Romney into finding an opponent for him here," the Democratic chairman said.

    As with past campaigns, Kennedy's re-election committee is being headed by members of his family, this time the twin sons of his nephew, former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II. Joe and Matt Kennedy, both 25, graduated from Stanford University and are taking their first stab at politics after beginning their careers, respectively, in the Peace Corps and a nonprofit agency.

    "As 'Uncle Teddy,' he's always so charismatic, funny, easy to talk to. And you see the same person when he's out with Mrs. McGillicuddy from Pittsfield," Matt Kennedy said.

    Kennedy refused to preview his convention speech, but he professed one fear before taking the stage at the DCU Center in Worcester.

    "I know they're going to cheer Vickie," he said as his wife, Victoria, sat on a couch nearby. "I hope they save a little of it for me."

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