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Kennedy launches $1.2m TV ad blitz in Senate race, highlighting coronavirus work

Joe Kennedy III.
Joe Kennedy III.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III is taking his US Senate campaign to the airwaves by launching a $1.2 million statewide advertising blitz later this week, the first major ad buy of his closely watched race against incumbent Senator Edward J. Markey.

Kennedy’s campaign placed the buy Wednesday, with the spot slated to start airing Thursday. The campaign said the monthlong campaign will reach Massachusetts voters in all four media markets that cover the state — Boston, Springfield, Providence, and Albany. The 30-second spot will run on broadcast and cable, Spanish language TV, streaming services, and digital platforms, the campaign said.

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The spot, which was largely filmed with two iPhones operated by Kennedy at his Newton home, focuses on his work in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“Right now, our country’s hurting,” Kennedy says at the start of the ad. “We need relief. That’s why I’m fighting for life-saving medical equipment, COVID testing for everyone, direct cash payments, and paid sick leave for all.”

The ad shows clips of the candidate — including a grey-toned opening shot of Kennedy looking out a window that evokes a famous image of his great-uncle John F. Kennedy — interspersed with images of our new normal: health care workers, Kennedy on a Zoom call, masked volunteers handing out meals.

“It will take shared sacrifice and progressive willpower to fix the damage done by President Trump, but together we will recover,” Kennedy continues, the music turning from dire to hopeful. He vows that when the crisis is over, he will lead the fight to make quality health “a guaranteed right for all.”

Kennedy says, “In the US Senate, I will lead that fight.”

In response to a Globe inquiry about whether Markey plans to go up on TV soon, his campaign manager, John Walsh, sent a statement that suggests the answer is no.

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“Senator Markey has always found that the best advertising is doing your job well and right now the voters are responding. From recurring cash payments to providing relief to families and small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, finding a cure for Alzheimer’s by 2025, and protecting our environment, Senator Markey’s legislative work is delivering real tangible results," Walsh said.

The subject matter of Kennedy’s first ad is perhaps obvious, given the current crisis. But it also signals the campaign’s intent to lean into Kennedy’s experience on health care, an issue that is always a top concern for voters but rising to new prominence amidst a global pandemic.

One of Kennedy’s first “viral” moments that brought him national attention involved a minute-long, middle-of-the-night speech calling the GOP bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act “an act of malice.” He has continued to focus on the sector, with special focus on mental health and addiction issues.

Even the making of the ad was shaped by the current crisis, the campaign told The Boston Globe. The Kennedy team had planned from the start to go up on TV this spring, but the pandemic threw original plans for what the ad would look like out the window, along with the footage that had been collected of the candidate out on the trail.

Instead, Kennedy’s team came up with a new concept, then hopped on Zoom on a recent Sunday to direct the ad, and help the candidate work the tech — remotely.

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Though the new ad doesn’t mention Kennedy’s opponent, its launch comes shortly after the contest between the two men entered a new, more heated phase. It’s also the latest sign that Kennedy is ready to fully engage after putting his campaign on hold for weeks during the beginning of the outbreak.

Kennedy has unleashed a series of sharper attacks against Markey in recent weeks, aiming to draw a contrast between his leadership style and that of the incumbent. Kennedy has said that Markey isn’t using the full potential of the Senate seat he holds to help residents.

The 73-year-old Malden Democrat, as Kennedy wrote in a recent e-mail to supporters, “isn’t in Massachusetts enough. And we can’t afford absent leadership right now.”

It’s a criticism that has dogged Markey for years, that his primary residence is not the two-story childhood home in Malden as he claims, but rather the much grander residence he and his wife have owned in Chevy Chase, Md., since 1991. The accusation that Markey doesn’t live in Massachusetts became more prominent during his maiden Senate campaign in 2013.

This week, Markey responded to Kennedy’s negative turn. His campaign released a digital video accusing Kennedy of “playing politics with the coronavirus,” and arguing that the 39-year-old challenger is wrong when he says Markey hasn’t done enough for communities affected by the virus. As dramatic music plays, the video shows a series of headlines featuring Markey — bills he’s introduced, investigations he’s called for, and other actions he has taken related to the coronavirus.

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“There’s no place during this kind of crisis — when people are hurting in so many ways — for negative political attacks, let alone blatantly false ones,” Markey tweeted, linking to his campaign video. Markey has also placed a small ad buy, less than $200, to run the video on Facebook, according to the Facebook ad library.

Markey’s campaign a few days earlier tweeted out a video featuring one of his neighbors in Malden, Emmanuel Marsh — a former member of the local school committee — talking about what a fixture in the neighborhood Markey has been in the 33 years Marsh has lived in the area.

“Here’s your US senator, here’s your US representative, and he’s just some regular guy that you just see walking down the street and no matter where he’s gone he’s never forgotten about his roots,” Marsh says in the video.

The state primary is Sept. 1.




Victoria McGrane can be reached at victoria.mcgrane@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.