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The Kennedys will soon be gone in Congress, unless this first-time candidate wins in South Jersey

By Allison Steele, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Political News

VINELAND, N.J. - Amy Kennedy spotted a familiar face.

Shane Harris was near a line of volunteers waving campaign signs at passing cars. Harris met Kennedy a few months ago, and had showed up again at a campaign stop here Saturday, this time with his adult daughter. He told Kennedy, who's running for Congress in South Jersey's 2nd District, that she had both their votes.

Harris, a Vineland police officer, voted to send Jeff Van Drew to Washington two years ago. He even phone-banked for him as a volunteer. So when Van Drew, a longtime Democrat, switched parties last year and pledged his "undying support" to President Donald Trump, Harris felt burned.

"No, I can't vote for him again. I'm a Democrat," Harris said. "It was an easy choice."

Kennedy has picked up many supporters like Harris since starting her campaign to unseat Van Drew, whose defection and opposition to impeaching Trump stoked fury among New Jersey Democrats. She said it was her own anger at Van Drew that sparked her decision to run. A 41-year-old former public school teacher, she won the July primary without the backing of South Jersey's political establishment, with a message focused on her background as an educator and mental health advocate.

Another important element of her campaign: She's a Kennedy.

 

If elected in November, Kennedy, whose husband is former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, will become the next member of a political dynasty whose power and influence span almost a century. If she loses, following U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy's unsuccessful Senate bid in Massachusetts, there will be no Kennedy in elected federal office next year.

In an interview last week, Kennedy acknowledged her married name has helped raise money and form a robust campaign team. But she doesn't feel the weight of the family's history while she campaigns hundreds of miles from New England.

"Here, it's not as big a deal," she said. "And I'm trying to keep this focused on South Jersey, because it needs to be less about me and more about where we live and what the people here care about. And that's health care, and jobs, and people who are worried about raising their kids."

When talking to voters, she's more likely to mention the family she was born into: four generations of Atlantic County residents who were part of local government, coached youth sports, and owned small businesses. Her father, Jerry Savell, was a county freeholder and a councilman in two townships. Michael Suleiman, chairman of the Atlantic County Democrats, said Kennedy's roots matter more to voters than her husband's.

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