BOSTON — Joseph Kennedy appeared headed for victory Tuesday in his bid to reclaim the congressional seat that launched the political career of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy.
Exit polling conducted by local television stations projected Kennedy, the son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, the winner by a wide margin in the field of 10 primary candidates vying to replace retiring House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. in the heavily Democratic 8th District.
Station WNEV-TV said that its exit poll indicated voters preferred Kennedy by a margin of 55% to 29% over state Sen. George Bachrach, his closest competitor.
Kennedy was accompanied by O'Neill to the Cambridge polls when the Speaker cast his ballot. O'Neill, noting that his name was not on the ballot for the first time in 34 years, said he felt "a touch of sadness" in not running again.
Early turnout was low because of cold, rainy weather, but it improved by midday with the tally in some precincts as high as 30%.
Kennedy was given a surprisingly tough battle by Bachrach, a liberal who characterized himself as a "little guy" running against the Establishment.
Bachrach had narrowed a huge Kennedy lead with an aggressive television campaign emphasizing that his opponent had no political experience, vague positions and was running on his name.
Kennedy Spent $1 Million
Kennedy spent more than $1 million on the campaign and presented himself as a moderate in a field dominated by more liberal candidates. He stressed his experience as founder of Citizens Energy Corp., which has bought millions of dollars of crude oil, refined it and sold it at no profit to low-income families.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Kennedy won the important backing of Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn as well as O'Neill.
The field also included James Roosevelt Jr., grandson of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Melvin H. King, the only black ever to reach the mayoral runoff elections in Boston.
Businessman Clark Abt was considered the favorite in the GOP race, but was given little chance of winning in November.
John F. Kennedy won the first political race of his career for the same seat in 1946, going on from there to win two Senate races and eventually the presidency in 1960.
A Kennedy victory Tuesday would be the second for the family in a week. Joseph Kennedy's older sister, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, easily won the Democratic nomination for a House seat in Maryland and will face one-term Rep. Helen Delich Bentley (R-Md.) in November.
Gov. Dukakis Unopposed
Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, a Democrat, had no primary opposition in a bid for his second straight term and third since 1974. He was expected to face conservative businessman George S. Kariotis, a former Democrat who stepped into the GOP race as a party-backed write-in after two other candidates were forced out by scandals.
In other primary action Tuesday, Oklahoma businessman David Walters faced state Atty. Gen. Mike Turpen in a Democratic runoff for governor. The winner will face Republican Henry Bellmon, a former governor and senator.
In Washington state, Republican Sen. Slade Gorton and former Democratic Rep. Brock Adams, who was President Carter's transportation secretary, faced only token opposition before squaring off in the fall general election.