BOSTON (AP) — He’s heir to a famed political family that traces its roots back to Boston’s bare-knuckled campaigns when Democratic ward bosses kept a close ear to the city’s narrow streets and tenement hallways.
Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy says contemporary party leaders could take a page from that history by listening harder to the economic worries of Democratic voters who bolted the party in November.
It’s not always an easy message for Democrats still reeling from Donald Trump’s win to hear, especially in a state that handed Hillary Clinton a 27-point margin.
But Kennedy said Democrats have little choice.
“There was a message sent on this Election Day where many voters that had traditionally come back home to the Democratic Party didn’t,” Kennedy told The Associated Press. “I think not taking the time to ask the question why, to listen to their response, and to try to understand why we lost some folks that had been in support of Democratic candidates and the Democratic Party for so long is folly.”
Kennedy said Democrats can do that while also sticking to their progressive roots, including standing up for “people that feel marginalized and voiceless.”
“We’ve got a proud history of that and we should never back away from that,” he said. “You can do that while also recognizing there are an awful lot of people in our country hurting and that we have to do a better job addressing the economic needs of working class and middle class voters.”
Kennedy — the grandson of Attorney General Robert Kennedy and grandnephew of President John F. Kennedy — said he’s willing to work with Republicans, emulating the political deal-making his great-uncle, Sen. Edward Kennedy, used to build coalitions across party lines.
Kennedy said there are few other options for a member of a minority party in an institution where bills need Republican support to pass.
“You’ve got to fight, but you’ve got to also try to move an agenda forward,” he said. “If you’re just out there screaming and yelling, there are people out there who need help and need help now and they deserve progress, too.”
Kennedy’s pragmatism was also at the root of his decision to attend the Trump inauguration out of respect for the presidency, while dozens of other House Democrats refused.
His more measured tone contrasts to others in the party like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has positioned herself as a top political foil to President Trump.
Kennedy’s 4th Congressional District is a microcosm of Massachusetts, encompassing communities like Newton where Trump got just 17 percent of the vote to Rehoboth, where Trump received 53 percent.
One of the biggest political questions in Massachusetts politics is where Kennedy may be headed in the future.
For now, all he’ll say is he’s planning to run for a third term in 2018.
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