BOSTON -- The intense media spotlight on the 8th Congressional District 'Duel of the Dynasties' between Joseph Kennedy II and James Roosevelt Jr. has more than a dozen hopefuls patiently waiting their turn at some attention.
The 32-year-old son of Sen. Robert Kennedy and the 40-year-old grandson of President Franklin Roosevelt have dominated a celebrity blitz unusual for a district where politics is serious business.
The glare already has driven from the field state Rep. Thomas Vallely of Boston, who decided his pitch as the 'other guy' was falling on deaf ears. Other candidates are left with lots of time to build grassroots organizations and wait until attention finally shifts to the issues.
'The truth is that as long as the field of candidates remains as large as it is -- with so many along for the ride -- then the debate, and the press coverage of it, will be simplistic and unedifying,' Vallely said.
A second candidate who received virtually no coverage, state Rep. William Galvin of Boston, dropped out a week later.
The race is for the seat now held by House Speaker Thomas O'Neill, the veteran Democrat who is retiring after more than 30 years.
'I don't plan to run naked down the street or engage in the forms of hucksterism some people contemplate,' quipped state Rep. Thomas Gallagher, who called his supporters 'the people who are not the people in People magazine.'
'It's all a double-edged sword,' said Kennedy. 'Sometimes it's frustrating. But you've got to learn to take the good with the bad and make the most of the opportunities that are provided.'
The battle heated up in earnest with Roosevelt's announcement for the seat. While insisting 'substance will indeed prevail over style,' Roosevelt left no stone unturned in reminding voters of his lineage -- he announced his candidacy at noon March 4, the exact time and day that 53 years ago FDR took his first oath of office.
Roosevelt, who trails Kennedy and state Sen. George Bachrach, another candidate, in early polls, unveiled the strategy he has used repeatedly since -- Kennedy bashing.
'There is no question Joe Kennedy starts out as the front-runner,' Roosevelt said. 'I start out as the person who can challenge him on substance.'
Kennedy responded in kind a day later.
'There happens to be a Jefferson, a Johnson, a Kennedy and a Roosevelt in this race,' he said, referring to Republican Mildred Jefferson and misidentifying Democrat Carla Johnston.
'Four famous names ... and the only one who really seems to be running on that is one of those four names, and it isn't me,' said Kennedy.
While Kennedy and Roosevelt trade barbs, Bachrach said he is busy at the grassroots.
'I understand Kennedy bashing gets you headlines,' he said. 'My sense is the bigger names are ahead in Chicago and Los Angeles and in Washington and in New York. But this race will be won or lost in Union Square in Somerville and Watertown Square and Oak Square in Brighton.'
Vallely blamed the size of the field -- not the focus on Kennedy and Roosevelt -- for the inability to focus on issues.
'Faced with a field of this size, the press has two choices: it can be fair and boring or it can be unfair and interesting to those candidates without name, money or political base,' he said. 'Covering this race for journalists must be as frustrating as running in it for a politicians.'
'I don't think you can get into faulting the size of the field for the lack of debate on the issues,' said Kennedy. 'The press has a particular job to do and many candidates are issue-oriented.'
Gallagher acknowledged that there is at least one benefit to the 'circus atmosphere.' A one-day row over Kennedy trust funds and South African investments brought television coverage for his call that Kennedy turn the proceeds over to anti-apartheid organizations.
Bachrach said he believes the mammoth field will eventually break into tiers and the serious candidates will emerge.
'We've always understood that in the first round the glitter goes to the big names, then it becames what do you have to say,' he said.