Ted Kennedy Jr., left, campaigning with Sen. Chris Murphy in 2012. Melissa Bailey photo

(News analysis) Branford — The arrival of Ted Kennedy Jr. as a potential Democratic candidate for state senator may turn out to be a game changer in Branford and Guilford.

That was the private assessment of figures across the political spectrum, who have been busy reimagining the 2014 campaign landscape in the wake of the news that the Connecticut heir to the Kennedy dynasty may finally be entering the electoral arena after decades of a semiprivate family life in Branford.

While the Kennedy aura may have diminished over the years in a country with more and more voters who weren’t alive during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, the maybe-candidate’s uncle, along the shoreline the name still had an instant impact.

Kennedy said Monday he will decide within two weeks whether to run for the 12th State Senate District seat being vacated this year by Sen. Ed Meyer. He said he wants to discuss this “opportunity for public service” with his family, friends and leaders throughout the 12th District. Translated, this means he wants to touch base and get to know party leaders in the six towns that make up the district before making an expected formal plunge. Few doubt that a formal campaign announcement is coming; a press release Kennedy issued Monday came from a veteran Democratic political campaign worker.

New York Times Magazine cover
New York Times Magazine cover

Kennedy, son of the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, has for the past year been widely assumed to be preparing for an electoral career. His frequent appearances at political events — as well as this New York Times Magazine story — fueled the speculation. Kennedy and his handlers arranged the Times piece to start the speculation.

Before Meyer’s announcement, Republicans were gearing up to run Cindy Cartier, a Guilford attorney who lost to Meyer in 2012, against him again. Cartier serves on the Guilford Board of Selectmen.

Now Kennedy’s emergence on the scene — with his famous name and widespread contacts — is causing some Republicans to reassess the race, and see whether it might make more sense to run Cartier, a viable candidate, in a different state legislative contest.

In a posting on her Facebook page Tuesday, Cartier wrote from Florida, where she and her family are vacationing: “I want to thank all my friends and supporters for their encouragement and urging to run for the State Senate seat in the 12th District. I was inundated with emails, messages and phone calls yesterday,” in the wake of Kennedy’s announcement.

“We are considering and will have a decision shortly about my plans. For now, embracing my family and the sunshine!”

If she decides not to run against the Kennedy name, she may instead decide to run against Branford/Guilford state Rep. Pat Widlitz. Widlitz co-chairs the General Assembly’s powerful finance committee and has been in office for two decades. Cartier ran against Widlitz in 2010 and lost.

Widlitz has not announced if she will seek another term in office. She told the Eagle a few weeks ago that she is focusing on her legislative responsibilities and will announce her election intentions before the current legislative session ends. The session ends the first week in May.

Other candidates who might seek to run against Kennedy may well emerge from those living in the six towns that comprise the 12th Senate District: Guilford, Branford, North Branford, Durham, Killingworth and Madison.

Bill Aniskovich, a Republican who held the 12th District Senate seat before losing it to Meyer in 2004, has recently turned his attention to local politics. He lives in Branford and was the powerhouse behind the recent successful political campaign that delivered Town Hall to the Republicans. The town’s new Republican first selectman, Jamie Cosgrove, recently appointed Aniskovich and his New Haven law firm as town counsel. Aniskovich has said in the past he will not seek state office again.

Asked about Kennedy’s statement Monday night, Cosgrove said, “That’s interesting.” He declined further comment.

Democrats, meanwhile, are banking on the Kennedy name to keep the Senate seat and “mobilize” a party that just lost its hold on Branford in the most recent municipal elections. Chris Sullivan, who was recently re-elected chair of the Democratic Town Committee, called Ted Kennedy Jr., “a great candidate for the Democratic Party.” Kennedy attended many local political events this year in Branford. In addition, the Kennedy name will have the immediate impact of galvanizing the local Dems, Sullivan said.

Marcia Chambers is editor of the online Branford Eagle, which she started in 2006 through the Online Journalism Project. This story originally appeared there. She is on The Mirror’s Board of Directors. Ted Kennedy Jr. and his wife are both contributors to The CT Mirror.

The photo of Kennedy and Sen. Chris Murphy, on the Mirror’s homepage, was taken in 2012 by Melissa Bailey during Murphy’s campaign.

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