Incumbent Markey Beats Kennedy in Massachusetts Senate Primary

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Edward Markey arrives with his wife Susan, left to speak in Malden, Mass., after defeating U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, Tuesday in the Massachusetts Democratic Senate primary. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

BOSTON (CN) — Senator Ed Markey defeated rival Joe Kennedy III in the Massachusetts Democratic U.S. Senate primary. 

Kennedy, a grandson of Senator Robert Kennedy, has been a Massachusetts congressman since 2012. His loss is a defining moment in the state, which launched his grand-uncle John on his way to the presidency. No Kennedy has ever been defeated in a Massachusetts election before.

Markey’s win will help cement the ascendancy of the progressive wing of the Democratic party. Markey is best known as the lead sponsor of the Green New Deal along with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

The race split national Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has had disagreements with Ocasio-Cortez, endorsed Kennedy, whom she selected in 2018 to deliver the Democratic response to Trump’s State of the Union address. Kennedy was also endorsed by his former House colleague Beto O’Rourke. But former Vice President Al Gore publicly backed Markey, as did the Boston Globe.   

Turnout was heavy. A week before the election some 650,000 people had already voted, surpassing the total for all presidential-year primaries since 1992, according to Debra O’Malley at the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office.  

Many Massachusetts voters told Courthouse News over the last few days that they were ready to move on past the era of Camelot. 

“We don’t need any more Kennedys,” said Dan Thomas of liberal Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

“There’s not much point in bringing in a less experienced person just because his name is Kennedy,” said Paul Stansifer, who voted just steps from the Harvard campus where Joe Kennedy and seven of his famous relatives graduated. 

“I don’t like political dynasties,” added Graham Noblit. 

Kennedy had a 17-point lead in an early poll around the time he announced his bid, but Markey rebounded by successfully pushing his progressive bona fides, at one point deriding Kennedy as “a progressive in name only” during a debate. 

Kennedy, a redheaded 39-year-old, billed himself early on as representing a generational change from the 74-year-old Markey, in a move reminiscent of President Kennedy’s promise in his nomination speech of “a new generation of leadership.”   

But it turned out that many younger voters felt more in tune with Markey’s focus on climate change. 

“The Green New Deal is very important to me,” said Jessica Bryant, a younger voter who supports Markey.  

Although a MassINC poll from October 2019 showed that 70% of voters under age 30 had no opinion or had never heard of Markey, a recent UMass Amherst poll showed Markey leading among young people by an astonishing 51 points.  

U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III speaks outside his campaign headquarters in Watertown, Mass., after conceding defeat Tuesday to incumbent U.S. Sen. Edward Markey in the Massachusetts Democratic Senate primary. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Ironically, the argument for generational change seemed to work best with an older generation. Anne Quirk, who is on the Democratic Committee in Belmont, a Boston suburb, said she voted for Kennedy because Markey would be 80 at the end of his term and she’s concerned about the “gerontocracy” in Congress. But she added, “I suspect my children are all voting for Markey.”   

Sally Johnson said her 89-year-old mother voted for Kennedy “because she wants to bring back Camelot and the 1960s.” But Johnson chose Markey instead.  

Markey “has voted in favor of the younger generation all his life,” Johnson explained.  

Eleven years after the death of Ted Kennedy, the family name has lost some of its magic. Markey successfully used the Kennedy mystique against his opponent, among other things by jokingly referring to his own modest home as his “compound.”   

In one campaign video Markey declared, “We asked what we could do for our country. We went out, we did it. With all due respect, it’s time to start asking what your country can do for you.”    

The video had more than 2.5 million views on Twitter in the first 24 hours.   

Many voters said they saw no reason to replace Markey. “What’s the point of challenging a progressive?” asked Thomas, who said Kennedy offered nothing new or different and simply represented “120 years of privilege.” 

Because Kennedy and Markey have similar stands on the issues, voter Bruce Leslie-Pritchard compared the race to Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley’s 2018 primary challenge to 10-term incumbent Mike Capuano.  

“But in that race, there was a reason to make a change,” Leslie-Pritchard said. “We need more Black women in Congress. But it’s not like we need more redheads in Congress.” 

In the Democratic primary to replace Kennedy in the 4th District — which consists mostly of exurban areas near Rhode Island and hasn’t voted for a Republican since World War II — there was a very close race between Jesse Mermell, a former aide to Governor Deval Patrick, and Newton city council member Jake Auchincloss. 

With more than 96% of the vote in, the race is still too close to call, although Auchincloss has a 1,500-vote lead.

Mermell was endorsed by Pressley, Attorney General Maura Healey and more than 20 labor unions.  

The Boston Globe endorsed Auchincloss, but the endorsement of a former Republican was internally unpopular and at least one Globe columnist published a rebuttal.    

Auchincloss, a distant relative of Jackie Kennedy, has been criticized for suggesting that flying a Confederate flag is a free speech issue and for a 2010 Facebook post in which he said of burning the Quran, “So we can’t burn their book, but they can burn our flag?”   

In another key congressional race in western Massachusetts, Richard Neal, the chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, handily defeated a primary challenge on the left from Alex Morse, the 31-year-old openly gay mayor of Holyoke.  

In an unusual development, the state’s Republican governor, Charlie Baker, endorsed Neal. No Republicans are running for Neal’s seat. 

In the state’s other contested congressional primaries, Representatives Seth Moulton and Stephen Lynch both won their races.

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