Sen. Markey aims to do the politically unthinkable: Deny a Kennedy a win in Massachusetts


Politics – washingtonpost

“We have tremendous momentum,” Markey said in an interview before the campaign’s final push. “The energy level at our events is growing by the day. A lot of it is driven by the climate crisis, by the Sunrise Movement, by young people all across the state who are rallying to this campaign.”

Kennedy, a son of former congressman Joe Kennedy II and grandson of the late Robert F. Kennedy, entered the race as a favorite, after years of expectation that he’d seek higher office. He picked up early support from labor unions, especially the state’s building trades, and he led in early polling.

“Now is not the time for waiting, for sitting on the sidelines, for playing by rules that don’t work anymore,” Kennedy said nearly a year ago, officially launching his campaign.

A Democratic strategist who has observed turnout patterns suggested that as many as 1.2 million people voted, more than twice as many as in the 2013 primary that first sent Markey to the Senate. That also would double the statewide turnout from two years ago, when Democrats held contests for several statewide offices.

Markey won a special election in 2013, replacing then-Secretary of State John F. Kerry, and a full term one year later, but when the race began he lacked the clear name recognition or national following of his predecessors. Since Kennedy was born, just five Democrats have been elected to represent Massachusetts in the Senate. Just one — Markey — never ran for president.

Kennedy raced around the state, accusing Markey of losing touch with constituents, at one point spending 27 straight hours talking to voters, from the day shift to the night shift.

Mary Anne Dube, 76, the chair of Worcester’s Democrats, said she got behind Kennedy immediately, in part because of how much more active than Markey he seemed to be in the state and in part because of the loyalty she placed in his family.

“I’ve been a Kennedy fan, and I think there’s nobody that stands up for the citizens of Massachusetts like the Kennedys,” she said. “It’s wonderful that he’s in. Everything he says is about what we need right now.”

No Kennedy has lost a statewide election in Massachusetts.

But Markey slowly took control of the race, emphasizing his years of work on climate-change legislation and his working-class roots as the son of a milkman from the blue-collar Boston suburb of Malden.

Some voters questioned why Kennedy would challenge the incumbent when their policy stands were so similar.

“I just think it’s unnecessary,” Sean Dacey, a 44-year-old chef whose restaurant job was eliminated by the coronavirus pandemic, said after seeing Markey speak last week. “I think it might have a bit to do with ambition and looking and seeing an opportunity than with a chance to distinguish himself on the issues. They’re pretty close on the issues. So why bother?”

Markey was boosted by the activist left, including the Sunrise Movement, a network of mostly young people who have demanded a transition to a green economy by 2030. To the surprise of both campaigns, Markey’s unflashy style made him popular online, with a photo of the senator wearing khakis and Nike sneakers going viral, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) endorsing him and touting his work on the Green New Deal.

“As soon as we realized there might be a credible threat to Markey’s reelection we wanted to make sure we were doing everything we could to have his back,” said Evan Weber, the political director of the Sunrise Movement. “We didn’t want to wake up to a bunch of headlines saying Ed Markey lost and voters rejected the Green New Deal.”

The final public polls before primary day found Markey in the lead, dominating Kennedy among younger and more liberal voters.

While Kennedy criticized Markey for his 2002 vote to invade Iraq and his 1994 vote for the crime bill, Markey’s supporters labeled Kennedy a fraud. Tensions boiled over in the final weeks, with Kennedy chastising Markey supporters for goading singers out of a Broadway fundraiser — it was canceled — and a campaign manager decrying the anger and vitriol from ­anti-Kennedy voters online.

“The death threats and assassination references are beyond the pale,” Kennedy’s campaign manager, Nick Clemons, wrote last week. In a letter to Markey campaign manager John Walsh, Clemons demanded that Markey tell his supports to cease.

Walsh said on Twitter that Markey had condemned “all vile and hateful speech.”

Kennedy’s supporters believe that Markey’s needling of the Kennedy name, including an ad in which he said it was “time to ask what your country can do for you” — turning John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address phrase inside out — gave the congressman an opening by unnecessarily irritating voters who respect the family’s legacy.

Kennedy won the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has otherwise avoided intervening in primary challenges, drawing more attention to the race.

Pelosi said Markey’s team had crossed a hallowed line by running a negative campaign against the Kennedy dynasty. “I wasn’t too happy with some of the assault that I saw made on the Kennedy family,” she said, “and I thought, Joe didn’t ask me to endorse him, but I felt an imperative to do so.”

The race became by far Markey’s most expensive primary. According to the campaigns’ ­pre-primary Federal Election Commission filings, Markey spent $10.3 million to fend off his challenger; Kennedy spent $11.5 million. Both candidates were also hit with ads from outside groups, after neither agreed to a truce on super PACs.

As the campaign came to an end, Kennedy argued that voters would see who was more present, who was working harder and who was spending the most time in ignored parts of Massachusetts.

“That’s why I got into this race,” Kennedy said in an interview last week. “Not for generational change, per se. Not as a primary from the left, per se. It’s straight up that you can’t tell me that the planet is on fire, that this is the most urgent moment of our lifetime and then not be here in Massachusetts.”

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