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Scorecard: Grading the debate performances of Markey and Kennedy

Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Headed into the final pair of debates, one candidate in the Massachusetts Democratic primary for US Senate has momentum. The other has the last name Kennedy.

Representative Joe Kennedy III has found his once double-digit lead to dethrone incumbent US Senator Ed Markey apparently evaporate into a tight contest where few really know where the race stands.

In their previous debate two weeks ago, neither candidate was on their A-game, but, in fairness, the moderators didn’t really help either candidate break new ground either.

On Tuesday night, it was a different story.

As with previous debate scorecards, the Globe uses two criteria for grades. The first is debate performance. The second is whether the candidate did what they needed to do in the context of the campaign. In this case, both could have used a game-changing moment.


Let’s get to the grades.

Joe Kennedy III, challenger and US Representative, Newton

Grade: B

Neither had the game-changing moment he wanted.

What’s really interesting about this moment in Massachusetts politics is some voters could literally have a blank ballot in their laps while they watched this debate. If that was the case, the most logical thing for them to do: put the blank ballot unmarked on the coffee table for another day.

The race after the debate was the same as it was before the debate: tight.

That said, it was also an hour where Kennedy, once again, kept Markey on the defensive. It’s as if Markey cannot help but make one more point about a topic that is bad for him. Indeed, the first 30 minutes had Markey basically defending his years in office, including what he did as a legislator on Beacon Hill nearly a half-century ago.

As things go, Kennedy may have won the debate out of pure tactics, but he hasn’t won this primary.


Ed Markey, incumbent US Senator, Malden

Grade: B-

It appeared Markey came into this debate hoping to talk about the Kennedy family backing a Super PAC airing negative ads against him. If that was his intention, he succeeded.

Markey barraged Kennedy with demands that he tell his father, a former congressman, not to spend money on negative ads. That exchange will likely be used on local television coverage because it was so personal and punchy. Point to Markey.

Kennedy didn’t take the bait though, and however much he thought the line landed, Kennedy ended up flipping around the whole thing to make Markey denounce some bad taste tweets from his supporters.

Still, this may have been Markey’s best debate. While the differences are so small ideologically, Markey has made himself the little guy on the left fighting the guy of privilege. But it won’t be enough for many voters to just outright reject Kennedy.

This will be a contest that will either be won in the last debate — next week — or more probably, on who can best mobilize supporters to vote by mail.

James Pindell can be reached at Follow him @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.