Rep. Joe Kennedy III knows what his opponents say about him, often at a whisper — that he is running on the Kennedy name.
"I am incredibly proud of the contributions my family has made to the state and this country," the Massachusetts Democrat told NBC10 Boston in an interview outside his Newton home.
The Senate candidate has built an impressive resume in his own right, including degrees from Stanford and Harvard Law School and time in the Peace Corps and as an assistant district attorney. But as the polls tighten, it raises the question: is the Kennedy name a blessing or curse in this race?
"My relatives aren't on the ballot, right? This is me. I win it, I lose it. It's me," he said. "I'll take the whispers. I'll take the bullhorn. I'll take the innuendo. That's not with this is about."
More on the Kennedy-Markey Senate Race
"Joe is on the road, not just to go to D.C. Joe is on the road throughout this district, throughout Massachusetts, because he is there for people when they ask him to be there for them," said his wife, Lauren Birchfield Kennedy.
That's seemingly in contrast with his opponent. Records show Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., spends the least amount of time in the state of any member of the state's congressional delegation.
"He should be in this race," Birchfield Kennedy said of her husband. "No matter what his last name is, based on his commitment to people, his commitment to public service and the authenticity that he brings."
She is the first to say the story of meeting Kennedy is a nerdy one.
It happened in a Harvard Law contracts class with professor Elizabeth Warren, who is of course now Massachusetts' other U.S. senator.
"Pouring over law books, and eventually becoming a little bit more interested than that," Birchfield Kennedy recalled.
"Some of us got together in that study group to make sure we copied somebody else's notes," Kennedy added.
Who made the first move?
"Yeah, that was me," the congressman said. "She said no."
But it all worked out.
Birchfield Kennedy says she didn't know at first that her future husband was the grandson of U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and the great nephew of President John F. Kennedy.
"I feel fortunate that I just got to know him on his own terms," she said.
Introducing her new boyfriend to her more conservative West Coast parents was more memorable, Birchfield Kennedy said.
"The perception of my family in conservative circles isn't necessarily the same one that I necessarily have," she said. "I think, first and foremost, they probably would've grilled anybody that I brought home."
It didn't take long for Kennedy to win the parents over. They were married in 2012, one month after he was first elected to Congress.
Birchfield Kennedy's work is advocating for women and high-quality affordable childcare.
"As Lauren has taught me, access to early childcare and government investment in early childcare is literally the best return on investment government dollars can give you," Kennedy said.
The Kennedy family is rounded out by 4-year-old Ellie and 2-year-old James. The kids have made periodic appearances on Kennedy's Facebook page. He recalls rolling out a major piece of economic policy on the same day his daughter sang a song from the movie "Frozen."
"Ellie got written up in People magazine," the congressman said. "No one cared about my economic policy. Nobody."
Kennedy has spent more time at his Newton home with his children during the pandemic, but with less than a month until the primary, there is little family time anymore.
"The way that I've run every single race is pour my absolute heart into everything," he said. "The real scary part about that is, if you do this right and you do this well, you make yourself vulnerable for the rest of the state to judge … I felt like this was important enough that I'm willing to risk my career to do it."