A year ago, Senator Ed Markey already faced two challengers and was behind in polling by double digits to Congressman Joe Kennedy who hadn’t even entered the race yet, but in the past year, Markey has put on a fight to make Tuesday a more competitive race than many expected.
Markey is facing off Tuesday against Congressman Joe Kennedy III, the 39-year-old grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, in the Democratic Senate primary for a seat that will likely remain Democratic no matter who wins. Recent public polling has Markey up, but the Kennedy campaign hopes a coalition of voters from minority communities will show up on Election Day to put the legacy into the Senate.
The central message of the Kennedy campaign in the past few months has been about how a senator should represent its constituents. Nick Clemons, Kennedy’s campaign manager, told CBS News that Markey doesn’t show up whereas Kennedy is present across the state.
According to The Boston Globe, Markey was in Massachusetts even less than Senator Elizabeth Warren while she was running for president. However, on the same day the Globe published that article, the editorial board of the paper endorsed Markey in the Senate primary.
Markey has built a coalition of young people and environmentalists who have been energized, helped in part by his relationship with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and their work together on the Green New Deal, legislation aimed at overhauling fossil fuel consumption.
Kennedy, for his part, has not attacked Markey for his progressive ideas and supports many of the same goals, including the Green New Deal, and he is a co-sponsor of the U.S. House Medicare for All legislation. In primary debates, Kennedy criticized decisions Markey has made in his over 40 years in Congress like his vote for the Iraq war and for opposing busing to desegregate public schools in the 1970s. Markey rebutted that he changed his stance on busing years ago and was not the only Democrat in Congress wrong about the Iraq war at the time.
“Honestly, whatever the results, and I’m very hopeful and we’re working hard to win, Markey’s campaign manager John Walsh told CBS News. “I think it’s going to be a reality that in this race in Massachusetts in 2020 for the United States Senate between Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy III, Ed Markey has run a race on an urgent, positive agenda.”
The late primary, which was always scheduled for September 1, has allowed both campaigns to seize on the moment of unrest in the country throughout the summer in their campaigns. Both of the campaigns told CBS News they will spend their last few days focused on racial inequities in the justice system, the economic system, and in the education system in Massachusetts.
Kennedy has been a rising star in the Democratic Party. He was first elected to Congress in 2012 and was chosen to give the party’s response to Mr. Trump’s 2018 State of the Union address, but since launching his campaign, he has been asked repeatedly why he is running now.
In his campaign launch, Kennedy said “we have a Senate that instead of trying to harness the opportunity of every person in this country, they’re trying to pull us back, and I’m running for the United States Senate to tear that down, to fight back.” He also told CBS News after launching his bid that he was running to bring about structural reform to make the economic system more fair. When asked if Markey was not doing these things, Kennedy said in September last year that he would do better than Markey on delivering change to Massachusetts.
Both campaigns have been rolling out endorsements in the final weeks before the primary. Markey’s endorsements include Ocasio-Cortez, Warren, Senator Cory Booker and Representative Carolyn Maloney, as well as climate change groups like the Sunrise Movement. But Kennedy in the past week added Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to his list of endorsements.
“Never before have the times demanded that we elect courageous leaders as today, which is why I’m pleased to join so many of my colleagues in endorsing Joe Kennedy III for Senate,” Pelosi said in a video recorded for the campaign. “He knows that to achieve progressive change, you must be on the front lines leading movements of people. Massachusetts and America need Joe Kennedy’s courage and leadership in the Senate.”
Thirty other House members have endorsed Kennedy and on Sunday, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke endorsed Kennedy.
Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Seth Moulton from Massachusetts both have said they will not endorse in the primary.
Kennedy has in the past few months leaned into the history that comes with his name on the campaign trail and in ads. The campaign brought on in July political strategist Tad Devine, who produced television ads for the late Senator Ted Kennedy. In a recent ad, the narrator says, “Joe Kennedy knows how a legacy is earned, in communities where a leader lives and works, in quiet conversations with people grieving and struggling, in a fight he and his family have made for generations,” with soundbites of speeches from Kennedy’s ancestors.
Massachusetts’ Secretary of State William Galvin said last week that over 1 million people have requested ballots for the primary, setting the opportunity for this race to outpace the 21.9% turnout in 2018’s statewide primary.
“We are feeling the higher this turnout goes, the better the turnout for Joe Kennedy is,” Kennedy’s campaign manager Nick Clemons told CBS News. “We know our voters are more likely to vote on Election Day. They’re not early voters, they’re not vote by mail folks, so we’re pushing our coalition out the door, phone banking, texting, everything we can do to get them out to vote.”
The campaigns have racked up an impressive amount of cash for a Senate primary in what many consider a safely Democratic state. Kennedy outraised Markey in two fundraising quarters this cycle, but from April to June, Markey outraised him by just about $50,000. From July to the middle of August, Markey raised about 600,000 more than Kennedy and spent just under $3 million in that time period. Kennedy’s campaign, on the other hand, has made a final sprint into the primary, spending about $4.4 million, according to the latest financial filing.
If Kennedy loses, he would be the first Kennedy to ever lose an election in Massachusetts since John F. Kennedy entered Congress in 1947.