Kennedy is for sure running for another six-year term but you would scarcely know it by reading, for example, the Boston Globe or its hometown rival, the Boston Herald.
Indeed, the Globe in particular has been paying closer attention to the Senate contests in neighboring Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Just about the only thing that might give Kennedy some traction in terms of political coverage in his home state of Massachusetts right now would be his declaring for the Republicans.
That’s about as likely event as the veteran senator – he’s served 44 years to date — actually losing to his Republican opponent, Kenneth Chase, on Nov. 7.
Kennedy’s running is being drowned out in the Bay State media by the torrent of ink, air and footage being devoted to a gubernatorial contest that is guaranteed to deliver a historic first.
Deval Patrick, the Democrat, would be the first African-American governor of Massachusetts should he win. Republican Kerry Healey would be the first woman.
In the face of such a groundbreaking duo, Kennedy is probably quite happy to take a distant back seat, though he at least has an opponent to consider unlike several of his fellow Democrats — Richie Neal, Jim McGovern and Martin Meehan among them — who are running for the House of Representatives unopposed.
Kennedy’s race, nevertheless, is drawing renewed attention to the effort in Congress, presently stalled, to secure comprehensive immigration reform.
It is doing so in part because Kenneth Chase has been taking Kennedy to task for his role in helping formulate the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill.
Chase refers to the Senate measure on his campaign web page as the “Kennedy Amnesty Bill” and, like Kerry Healey, has been working hard to make the issue of illegal immigration a decisive one for Massachusetts voters on polling day.
Whether they succeed or not doesn’t take away from the fact that the outcome in the 33 Senate contests will have a potentially decisive effect on the course of the immigration reform debate in the 110th Congress.
From the point of view of those seeking reform and relief for thousands of undocumented Irish, the electoral prospects for Ted Kennedy are never anything to be taken for granted.
Additionally, however, Irish-American reform backers will be paying close attention this year to a half dozen or so Senate contests that could conceivably result in Democrats securing a majority in the 100-member chamber.
The question being posed this week, however, is whether a turnaround in the Senate would actually help reform prospects.
There is a view about that the prospects for a bill that would grant relief to the Irish and others would be better enhanced if Democrats secured the House and Republicans retained the Senate where there has already been bipartisan agreement that the immigration issue goes far beyond just building a fence along the border with Mexico, a move legally authorized by President Bush’s signature last week.
That view revolves around an axis dominated by Kennedy and Republican John McCain, who is not having to defend his Senate seat this year, and who would appear to be already looking ahead to a 2008 bid for the Republican Party presidential nomination.
It also draws on a belief that an immigration bill agreed between a split Congress would ultimately be more palatable to a president who seems inclined towards something broader than just a razor wire fence that has been compared to the Berlin Wall by the outgoing president to the south of it, the Irish-Mexican Vicente Fox.
Bush, himself, of course, would rather deal with GOP majorities in both House and Senate. But when it comes to immigration he would also gain political cover from a bipartisan deal.
Similarly, the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform has been careful in recent days to heap praise on favored senators from both sides of the aisle.
In a press release, the group applauded a posse of Republican senators including Arlen Specter, Judd Gregg, John Warner, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Hagel, Sam Brownback and the aforementioned John McCain.
As it happens though, none of sitting Republican senators favorably mentioned in the ILIR release are actually running this time around.
The states in play, however, could elect new senators who would be inclined to support comprehensive reform this side of the 2008 presidential election.
As is usually the case, the 33 races are dishing up candidate names that speak of Irish roots, or in the case of the Democratic challenger in Virginia, James Webb, Scots-Irish ones.
Webb, a onetime Republican, highly decorated Vietnam veteran and Navy Secretary in the Reagan administration, is the author of a widely acclaimed 2003 book entitled “Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America.”
With just days before the election, Webb is trying to shape the Virginia vote to the point that he fights off his rival, incumbent GOP senator George Allen.
If he succeeds, Webb will, in all likelihood, form a cross-party Senate caucus of sorts with the man who wrote the glowing front cover blurb for Born Fighting: his fellow Vietnam veteran and Scots-Irish American, John McCain.
The 2006 Senate showdown is an equation that throws up not only ethnic brothers and brothers in arms, it also features neighboring races involving sons of popular former state governors.
In New Jersey, Tom Kean Jr. is mounting a strong challenge against the sitting Democrat, Bob Menendez. With time on his hands, Ted Kennedy is expected in the Garden State this week to give Menendez a leg-up.
For a first timer, Kean has the advantage of a well-known and locally tested political name. His immigration stance, though, will be of keen interest to the ILIR should he be elected.
Kean, for example, has praised bill mandating the fence along the Mexican border.
“As a matter of national security, America must stop the flow of illegal immigrants, narcotics and even weapons into the United States. Our nation has a serious illegal immigration problem, and addressing that problem starts with securing our borders.
“This bipartisan bill will stem the tide of illegal immigrants crossing our southern border, and I applaud the 80 Senators who voted for this legislation that will directly make America more secure,” Kean said in a statement.
The man is clearly no soft touch when it comes to the illegal and undocumented. But he did include the word “bipartisan” in his statement and that will be seen as a positive starting point by Irish reform advocates should he be elected.
In neighboring Pennsylvania, meanwhile, State Treasurer Bob Casey, another son of a onetime governor, is putting a full court press on Republican incumbent Rick Santorum.
Casey is viewed as being a socially conservative Democrat and that means he is likely an attractive proposition to so-called GOP-leaning Reagan Democrats in his state.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had no problem deciding on which of the two men to endorse.
“The differences between these two men are about substance and style – the difference between ideology and reasonableness, between the loudly harsh and the quietly decent,” the paper opined in an editorial.
“Mr. Casey is a known quantity to Pennsylvanians. The son of a beloved governor, he is a career politician, too, but his record as both auditor general and treasurer has been about public service in its best sense, not about the power.”
The paper urged Pennsylvanians to vote for the “eminently capable and good-hearted” Bob Casey Jr.
In New York, meanwhile, Hillary Clinton looks set to secure her second term against the challenge of former Yonkers mayor John Spencer. But of course few are thinking about Clinton in purely senatorial terms.
Clinton has maintained her interest in issues of Irish-American concern and will be expected to continue in this vein no matter where she ends up doing her political work in the years ahead