Martha Coakley, Scott Brown, and “The Kennedy Seat”
Today there is a special election being held in Massachusetts to fill the US Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy until his death from brain cancer this past August.
Running for the seat are Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley. In recent days, this race has become increasingly tight, with national attention focused on the outcome, which could either provide the 60th vote for, or 41st vote against, healthcare reform.
Nate Silver, the master of meta-analysis of polling data, sees the data suggesting a GOP leaning, the way he characterizes a 60% to 80% chance of winning. It will surely be the most closely watched election today.
In their final debate before the election, Scott Brown was asked about the possibility of being elected to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat. He responded by saying, “It’s not the ‘Kennedy Seat’…it’s the people’s seat.”
This is true but some incumbents and some political names do have a special hold on their places in public life. For over 40 years the name Ted Kennedy was synonymous with the term “Massachusetts Senator,” and his life and time in Washington was marked by extraordinary odds, both good and bad.
The late senator lived a life which at every turn seemed tethered to fate. He was born in 1932, the baby of a family of 9 children. Five of the siblings had tragic fates: the oldest brother, Joseph, and Kathleen Kennedy were both killed in plane crashes—Joseph while flying a combat mission during World War II, and Kathleen 4 years later in a crash over France. Rosemary, the oldest daughter, was institutionalized following a lobotomy. Finally, there were the assassinations of brothers John in 1963 and Robert in 1968.
Kennedy himself was nearly killed in a 1964 plane crash which claimed the life of an aide. Five years later, he was responsible for the death of another aide, Mary Jo Kopechne, when he drove off a pier into the water off Cape Cod. In 2008, he was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer.
And tragedy was not limited to one generation. Ted’s son suffered bone cancer as a boy and endured the amputation of his right leg. His nephew, John Jr., was also killed in a plane crash in 1999. Another nephew was killed in a skiing accident, another died of a drug overdose, another was indicted for rape, a brother died in combat, a sister in a plane crash, another had a lobotomy, and his father suffered a stroke.
To have any one of these things in one lifetime would seem like long odds. To have them happen in one lifetime, within one family, almost defies belief.
Kennedy began his political career as the younger, lesser known brother of President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy who few thought would have a serious career as a United States Senator. He did have some pretty big shoes to fill, and when he was elected to his first term in the US Senate representing Massachusetts in 1962, he quickly got to work forming his own legacy, which, whether you share his politics or not, will undoubtedly go down in US Senate history.
In fact, the odds a US Senator will serve in the Senate for over 40 years are 1 in 305 (US, 1789-2009). Of the 2,140 total senators who have ever served in the US Senate since it began over 200 years ago, Ted Kennedy is one of only 7 men who have served the people of their state and their country for over 40 years.
On some of the most important and pressing issues of our time, Ted Kennedy was present in the US Senate. The odds a US Senator will cast 15,000 or more votes in his or her career are 1 in 535 (US, 1789-2009). Ted Kennedy is a proud member of the exclusive group of only 5 senators who have achieved those remarkable odds. Some of those 15,000 plus votes were on legislation concerning children’s healthcare, AmeriCorps, No Child Left Behind, and countless others.
Senator Kennedy led a tumultuous personal and political life at times, but history will write the final chapter in his legacy. With his death, the US Senate lost one of its longest serving and most storied members. After all, the odds a US Senator has served longer than Ted Kennedy are only 1 in 1,070 (US, 1789-2009).