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On The Ballot In Georgia This Year: JFK

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On The Ballot In Georgia This Year: JFK

Politics

On The Ballot In Georgia This Year: JFK

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Let's go to Georgia now, where there is a state Senate race that's turning heads because JFK is running. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Adam Ragusea reports on the candidate with some very familiar initials but very different politics.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN JINGLE)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy for me.

ADAM RAGUSEA, BYLINE: Yes, his name is John F. Kennedy, but the Kennedy we're talking about is not the Democrat that this 1960 campaign jingle is promoting for president. The JFK running for state Senate in Georgia was introduced at a recent campaign event like this.

(APPLAUSE)

SALLIE BARKER: The man, the legend and (unintelligible). The F stands for Flanders, not Fitzgerald.

JOHN FLANDERS KENNEDY: It does. Yeah, yeah.

BARKER: Right.

KENNEDY: Sallie, thank you.

RAGUSEA: John Flanders Kennedy is charming, clean cut and good-looking, but he is not from Boston, and he is no Democrat.

KENNEDY: I grew up in Adrian, Georgia, small town of 800 people. We used to watch "The Andy Griffith Show" to see how city-folk live.

(LAUGHTER)

RAGUSEA: State Senate candidate Kennedy is a self-described pro-family, pro-business, pro-Second Amendment Georgia Republican. He does admit to some angst about sharing a name with an icon - really, the icon - of the Democratic Party.

KENNEDY: I've been the brunt of a lot of jokes for the last 48 years. Anyone that knows me knows that I'm conservative and I've been conservative all my life, and actually was a Republican in high school in the '80s when not many people in south Georgia or central Georgia were Republicans, and certainly not many people where I grew up were Republicans.

RAGUSEA: Thing is, it's not just Kennedy's name that's throwing people. It's also his campaign artwork, ubiquitous along central Georgia roads right now. Three simple bands of red, white and blue with John F. Kennedy in a retro font.

CHRIS GRANT: Well, it's very reminiscent of the John F. Kennedy for president branding from the 1960 campaign.

RAGUSEA: Chris Grant is a political science professor at Mercer University.

GRANT: It is something that you would immediately look at as something a little nostalgic. It is vintage, if you will.

RAGUSEA: Candidate John Flanders Kennedy says that wasn't intentional.

KENNEDY: I hired a group out of Atlanta and the only suggestions I made going into it was, I said I really like traditional red, white and blue letters, and I don't like anything really weird-looking. And everybody seemed gravitate to this one graphic that they came up with.

RAGUSEA: The political consultancy that Kennedy hired is called the Stoneridge Group. And its CEO, Jay Williams, says he absolutely was trying to evoke President Kennedy with that artwork, for an obvious reason.

JAY WILLIAMS: I mean, how many stories have you done on political campaign identity? The fact that you're doing one now proves that we're getting folks talking about him.

RAGUSEA: Well, touche, sir.

(LAUGHTER)

RAGUSEA: Williams says his strategy is not about getting Democrats to vote for Kennedy. No Democrat qualified for the ballot. Kennedy only faces a Tea Party-aligned candidate in the GOP primary. He didn't respond to requests for an interview. So a man named JFK is left courting conservatives, but it's worth remembering that some of those conservatives used to be Democrats. And in 1960, Georgia did go Kennedy.

For NPR News, I'm Adam Ragusea in Macon, Georgia.

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