About 80 Democrats--and a sprinkling of Orange County Republicans--turned out Wednesday night for a political fund-raiser for a Roosevelt lodged in a tight congressional race in Boston with a Kennedy.
James Roosevelt Jr., grandson of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and son of former U.S. Rep. James Roosevelt, told guests at the Balboa Bay Club who paid $100 to attend the cocktail reception that he considers Joseph P. Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, the front-runner in the 10-man Democratic primary Sept. 16.
The winner will take on a Republican candidate in November to succeed retiring Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, who has held the seat for 34 years. Before that, former President John F. Kennedy held the congressional seat for six years before moving on to the Senate and finally the White House.
Likes Being Underdog
"Joe is clearly the front-runner, but I like being the underdog," Roosevelt said, adding that he and Kennedy and two other candidates are the only four who have legitimate chances of winning the nomination.
Roosevelt, a health-care attorney, was in Southern California to speak to the Health Care Financial Management convention in Universal City earlier in the day. Robert Hurwitz, a Newport Beach attorney and friend of both Roosevelts, sponsored the reception with investor Clifford Heinz.
"Jim was already here, so we decided to sponsor a spur-of-the-moment, informal reception," Hurwitz said.
The two sponsors said they did not know yet how much money was raised. The younger Roosevelt said it would take $750,000 to win the race. Kennedy, 33, also has made a public appearance in Orange County to raise funds and only three days ago was the beneficiary of a political reception in Santa Monica.
Hurwitz added that Orange County residents are interested in the race because "the election for this particular office, Tip O'Neill's seat, is very important. Whoever is elected will have it for a long time."
Virtually Assured Victory
The Democratic primary winner is virtually assured victory in November since the district, which includes Cambridge and Harvard University, is 91% Democratic.
This is the first political race for both Roosevelt and Kennedy, although Roosevelt has been involved in the National Democratic Committee and is counsel to the Massachusetts' Democratic State Committee.
"I've always been involved behind the scenes," he said.
Roosevelt told the crowd that he and Kennedy have "real differences on issues and in our approaches." He said he opposes raising personal income taxes while Kennedy has not stated his position. Roosevelt said he opposed the bombing of Libya by President Reagan while Kennedy defended the attack.
Roosevelt also said Kennedy's strength has dropped to about 33% after a high of about 48% when he first announced his candidacy.
"The day Joe Kennedy announced (his candidacy), he was the instant front-runner. But his support has fallen, and there is now a large undecided pool of voters. That's why the next nine weeks will be very important," he said.
Roosevelt said he has bought 30 minutes of air time on a Boston television station for a July 26 "head-to-head" debate with Kennedy.
"But like a good front-runner, he has not accepted yet," he said.
Roosevelt, who was reared in Los Angeles but has lived in the Boston district for 22 years, said he was not bothered by the presence of a few Republicans at Wednesday night's fund-raiser. County Supervisor Thomas F. Riley was the most notable Republican in attendance, but he stayed only half an hour and left before Roosevelt addressed the group.
"I have some good Republican support back home," he told them.
Times Orange County political writer Lanie Jones contributed to this story.