His surname is one of the most iconic in American politics.
But Joe Kennedy III remains a relative unknown outside his home state of Massachusetts.
Even though the 37-year-old Democrat has been in Congress since 2013, by most accounts he’s kept a low profile. Some have commented that he’s almost gone out of his way not to capitalize on the family name.
Everything changes Tuesday night as he delivers the Democrats’ response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech.
The after-speech is commonly pressure-filled; some people say it’s cursed. Just ask Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, famously remembered for nervously sipping water as he delivered the Republican response to Barack Obama’s 2013 State of the Union.
Kennedy will deliver the speech from his home court, so to speak, in front of students and other members of the community gathered at Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School in working-class Fall River, Mass.
Here are eight things you might know about the young congressman with the famous name who, noted Town & Country last year, is a “four-shot-espresso-drinking, fluent-Spanish-speaking ... redhead.”
1. How he’s a Kennedy. He was born into a political dynasty, the grandson of Robert Kennedy, the former U.S. attorney general and New York senator. He is also the great-nephew of President John F. Kennedy and U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. His parents are Sheila Rauch and former Massachusetts Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II.
When he joined Congress he became the first Kennedy of his generation to hold public office.
2. He’s Massachusetts proud. He was born on Oct. 4, 1980, a few minutes after his twin brother, Matt. They were raised near Boston, spending summer vacations at the famous Kennedy compound on Cape Cod.
He and his brother attended Buckingham Browne & Nichols, a prestigious prep school in Cambridge, Mass. They went to Stanford University and Harvard University together, where the congressman earned a law degree from Harvard Law School.
They weren’t the only Stanford students with a famous political pedigree.
“Chelsea Clinton was there at that point,” Joe told Town & Country. “You could tell who she was because there would be three guys with empty backpacks behind her.”
Before being heavily recruited to run for the seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, Kennedy worked as an assistant district attorney.
3. His family just grew by one. He and his wife, Lauren, are parents to a 2-year-old daughter, Eleanor, and a son, James Matthew, born last month. Kennedy was at home for the birth and missed voting on Trump’s tax overhaul.
The first gift the newborn received was a New England Patriots jersey from his grandfather, Joseph P. Kennedy II.
The baby’s birth announcement drew more than 44,000 “likes” on Kennedy’s Facebook page.
“He’ll love hiding under the oval office desk when he is 3, just like his Uncle John did,” one woman wrote, referencing President Kennedy’s son, John.
4. He’s passionate about the Peace Corps. President Kennedy signed an executive order founding the Peace Corps in 1961. Joe Kennedy is not only an outspoken advocate for the organization, he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic from 2004 to 2006.
He shared his favorite memory from that service with U.S. News & World Report in 2016.
“During my service in the DR, I was riding a bus on my own one day when an older gentleman tapped me on the shoulder. ‘Corpo de Paz?’ he asked. I nodded. Then he leaned forward and thanked me. ‘For what?’ I asked.
“He explained that years ago, a young man came to his town as a Peace Corps volunteer and helped the community gain dependable, easy access to clean drinking water. He wasn’t thanking me for my work. He was thanking me for the work of that other young volunteer, so many years ago. To me, that’s what the Peace Corps is all about – the impact that simple acts of service can have across borders, generations and time. It’s a lesson I carry with me every day.”
5. Yes, his hair is red. School classmates used to call him “the beacon” because, well, his hair.
It gets noticed. His college roommate, a VIP in his own right, once called it like “big, red, sheepdog hair” that can get out of control.
The conservative Washington Examiner, which criticized Democrats for choosing “an Ivy League blue blood with a trust fund and a famous name to reconnect with the common man” for Tuesday’s speech, also derisively referred to Kennedy as a “wealthy ginger.”
In 2012, the Boston Herald called attention to how Massachusetts native Conan O’Brien — “everyone’s favorite Brookline-bred redhead” — shared the same “bright hair and pale, pigment-less skin” as Kennedy, then a congressional candidate.
Kennedy joined Snapchat on Monday and mocked his red-headed, “alarmingly accurate bitmoji” and people laughed along, making O’Brien references.
6. People have loved his speeches already. He made national headlines during the health care debate last year with a passionate speech denouncing Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
He slammed House Speaker Paul Ryan, challenging his fellow Catholic for referring to the bill as an “act of mercy.” Kennedy called it an “act of malice.”
The speech caught the attention of a man named Barack Obama, who compared the young Kennedy to his political forefathers.
“I have to imagine it would give them great pride to see a new generation of Kennedys, like Joe, carving their own proud paths in public service,” Obama told a crowd in Boston as he received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award.
Three of Kennedy’s Capitol Hill speeches have become viral hits on Facebook, drawing millions of views.
“The videos show a relatively young congressman with eloquent rhetoric and an earnest delivery,” wrote The Boston Globe.
“They suggest that he has a way of striking a chord at times with people looking for pushback against Trump and the Republicans — and it’s possible he’ll do it again Tuesday night.”
7. The man who would be president? Last summer Town & Country’s story about Kennedy ran with this headline: “Meet the next President Kennedy.”
“In the era of Trump — which seems, on its face, to represent a rejection of the politics of yore, an excommunication of Clintons and Bushes — an odd thing seems to be sprouting: a Kennedy comeback,” the magazine noted.
Democratic congressional leaders said they chose him to give Tuesday’s speech because he is a “relentless fighter for working Americans.”
“He’s the best of both worlds: a fresh face with a storied name, lots of charisma and zero baggage,” Democratic strategist David Wade told The Hill, calling Kennedy “an inspired choice.”
“His speeches go viral because he communicates in modern language. He doesn’t sound like he was invented in a focus group.”
8. His roommate at Stanford was Jason Collins, the NBA’s first openly gay player. Collins has described Kennedy as a quiet, studious roomie who did not drink, never gave in to peer pressure and kept a clean and tidy room.
“I kid you not. When I would open the door, Joe would either be at his desk working or reading a book,” Collins told Town & Country. “I never saw him hanging out playing video games. That’s not Joe.
“Joe’s the guy you call when something goes wrong. He’s the soccer dad.”
Collins said that before he came out publicly on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2013, he told Kennedy.
The next year the two men marched together in a gay pride parade.
That SI cover is said to hang in Kennedy’s congressional office today.