More than three weeks before primary day, the Democratic contest between US Senator Edward J. Markey and Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III took a sharp turn Saturday, with the congressman releasing an online-only ad featuring a labor leader blasting Markey for hurting union workers in his hometown of Malden.
The ad opens with a bird’s eye view of Malden and IBEW Local 2222 Business Manager Myles Calvey intoning, “This is where it happened. Where Ed Markey put hundreds of union workers out on the streets, selling them out to giant telecom corporations and then taking hundreds of thousands of donations from those same companies.”
Calvey said the losses “came at the expense of my union brothers and sisters,” but does not specify what companies lost jobs.
Calvey claimed that Markey “gave Internet and phone companies the powers they have today to deliver poor services, hurt workers, and overcharge consumers.”
“Ed Markey still pretends it didn’t happen, just like he pretends to still live here in Malden,” said Calvey, whose union endorsed Kennedy.
That last potshot appears to be in reference to Markey spending less time in Massachusetts than the rest of the state’s congressional delegation. According to the Kennedy campaign, the ad is in response to Markey’s first television ad that highlighted his working class roots in Malden.
Markey campaign manager John Walsh said in a Saturday statement, “The shifting strategy of negative attacks coming from a desperate Kennedy campaign is because they see their opponent gaining momentum in these critical final weeks of the race.”
In a statement, a Kennedy campaign spokeswoman denied the ad was negative.
“Our system needs more scrutiny of long-time incumbents, not less,” said Emily Kaufman in an e-mail. “After 47 years in office, it’s not ‘negative’ to ask Senator Markey to defend decisions he made that hurt Massachusetts.”
Saturday’s broadside from the Kennedy campaign is the latest in what is becoming an increasingly contentious race, as both candidates joust for voters in the home stretch of the primary. The Markey campaign on Friday ripped Kennedy for what it called his “ever-changing position on Super PACs” and promoted a digital ad that asked, “Does Joe Kennedy care about the role of ‘dark money‘? Or does he only care when it’s politically convenient for him?”
Kennedy spent much of the past year calling on Markey to sign a so-called People’s Pledge to limit outside spending in the race, and asked Markey “for the last time” to agree to the limits in late June. Despite supporting the pledge in the past, Markey refused to sign on to the agreement in the primary, proposing a watered-down alternative that would allow progressive groups with positive messages to spend in the race.
Kennedy rejected that as a loophole that would render the pledge moot.
Separately, a new ad from a pro-Kennedy Super PAC also criticizes Markey. In that ad, from “New Leadership PAC,” a narrator paints a picture of doom and gloom in Trump’s America, with record profits for insurance companies while thousands die and millions lose their jobs.
“And where’s Ed Markey been?” asks the narrator. “Missing votes.”
The pro-Kennedy super PAC was organized by Mindy Myers, a former top aide to Senator Elizabeth Warren who went on to become the first woman to lead the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, according to a Democratic operative familiar with the PAC.
Attempts to reach Myers on Saturday were not successful.
Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of a candidate, but are not allowed to coordinate with a campaign or candidate. Kennedy’s campaign stated on Saturday that it has no coordination or communication with such an independent expenditure,
Walsh, Markey’s campaign manager, wasn’t buying it.
“If Congressman Kennedy wants to run negative ads, he should do so using his own campaign money,” he said in a statement.
Kaufman, the Kennedy campaign spokeswoman, said, “None of us have experienced anything like the vitriol, misinformation, and personal attacks launched at Joe and his supporters by Senator Markey’s network over the past several months. It has been horrific. And we think the Senator needs to take responsibility for the tone and tenor of the people supporting him in this race.”
The surge of pro-Kennedy super PAC spending comes after two different outside groups have spent money to support Markey. United for Massachusetts, a new super PAC formed by environmental activists, announced in July it would spend $900,000 on a digital and TV ad campaign, while Environment Massachusetts announced a $200,000 ad campaign for Markey in June, purchased through the organization’s national super PAC.
The primary is Sept. 1, but voting by mail has already begun. It’s unclear who has the edge in the race. One recent poll found Markey slightly ahead of Kennedy, but still within the poll’s margin of error.
Victoria McGrane of Globe staff contributed to this report.