Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III and Senator Edward J. Markey elbow-bumped their way around the state Sunday, making final pitches to voters in the contentious Democratic Senate primary race that wraps up Tuesday.
With more than 700,000 ballots already cast, the vast majority of them by mail, Kennedy and Markey focused their efforts on turning out supporters who haven’t yet sent in their ballots or who plan to vote in person.
For Kennedy, who polls show is trailing Markey by notable margins, the mantra of the final stretch has become “the vote is there, we just got to get it out.”
That’s what the 39-year-old Newton Democrat assured a union supporter in a brief phone call, in between knocking on doors in the Mishawum Park housing complex in Charlestown.
And it’s a phrase Kennedy’s great-aunt, Vicki Kennedy, widow of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, repeated to a Kennedy supporter when she stopped by an event in Dorchester.
Former Boston city councilor Tito Jackson made a different pitch, standing next to Kennedy in Dorchester while they filmed a video urging voters to turn out on Tuesday.
“He’s a man of integrity. The brother shows up, he’s in and around our communities, and he has the right policies,” Jackson said. A steady stream of horns blared in the background.
Markey spent the first several stops of the day rallying supporters in Cambridge, Arlington, and Newton, places where his core white progressive backers dominate, before heading to communities farther west of Boston, including Worcester, one of the gateway cities where both campaigns are battling for voters.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin told WCVB-TV in an interview that aired Sunday that Massachusetts voters have already cast more than 700,000 ballots; more than 600,000 of those were mail-in ballots, and most of those came from suburban communities. (The highest state primary turnout in Massachusetts history was 1990, when 1.5 million voters cast ballots, but Galvin doesn’t expect Tuesday to reach that level.)
Dressed in a light blue button-down shirt, navy blue slacks, and white Nikes, Markey appeared relaxed, posing for countless photos and even busting out some dance moves to Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” in Newton.
Still, Markey said, he was taking nothing for granted two days before primary day.
“I’m going to be all gas, no brake until then,” he said.
Along the way, Markey brandished his progressive credentials, emphasizing the threat of climate change and the importance of his plan known as the Green New Deal, and ripping President Trump and the GOP for appealing to racist sentiments.
He spent significant time on themes of racial justice, reflecting his bid to win over voters of color, a constituency the Kennedy campaign is counting on as well.
Standing in front of Cambridge City Hall, Markey told the dozens gathered there that the novel coronavirus was killing Black and brown people at a much higher rate than white people, and he highlighted racial gaps in economic recovery amid the pandemic. He also referenced the recent police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, saying he stood with protesters, including NBA players who recently refused to play several games in the wake of that violence.
“‘It would be immoral if we did not take bold action now in order to end those injustices,” Markey said.
Throughout the day, at each of his first few stops, he was hailed by an array of elected Democrats. More than one portrayed Markey as a proud liberal before it was cool.
“He was a progressive and a champion before some Democrats found out you could actually win elections being a progressive,” said state Representative Sean Garballey, an Arlington Democrat.
Kennedy, in an interview with WBZ-TV’s Jon Keller that aired Sunday, continued to criticize Markey’s record on issues of race. That included Markey’s past opposition to busing in Boston to desegregate schools and allegations made by the parents of DJ Henry, a Black college student from Easton shot by a white police officer in New York 10 years ago, that Markey dismissed their requests for help.
“Senator Markey has served in times of consequence, particularly when it comes to racial justice, and he’s been on the wrong side over and over again,” Kennedy said. (Markey declined Keller’s offer to do a similar interview.)
The urgency of Kennedy’s mission to turn out his supporters on Tuesday was underscored Sunday afternoon when yet another poll — this one in Kennedy’s own congressional district — found the 74-year-old Markey leading Kennedy, 48 percent to 44 percent.
“It’s not a good sign [for Kennedy]. You would think that this would be a stronghold for him,” said John Del Cecato of RABA Research, which conducted the survey of 497 Massachusetts voters, commissioned by Jewish Insider, a national politics publication.
The survey, conducted Thursday and Friday by interactive voice response calls to landlines, showed Kennedy did enjoy a lead with voters of color, an important piece of the challenger’s coalition, but “my sense is that Markey is on the move,” Del Cecato said. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.39 percentage points.
Poll numbers did not appear to dampen Kennedy’s spirits as he stumped Sunday. Cheerful and energetic, Kennedy pet dogs, snapped photos, and even partially scaled a chain-link fence to greet one man in Charlestown, the first stop in an itinerary that carried him down to Quincy, Brockton, Fall River, and New Bedford.
“I want some young people in there,” one woman told Kennedy as they posed for a photo in Charlestown’s Thompson Square. “No more 40 years in the,” she trailed off, gesturing with a hand.
Kennedy broke into Spanish at one door in the Mishawum Park complex, getting multiple fist-bumps from the man inside, and crouched to the sidewalk outside another, listening to a young boy with Down syndrome sing, “What a Wonderful World.”
“The type of campaign I wanted to run was one like this. Trying to do that in the midst of a global pandemic is hard,” Kennedy said in a brief interview during a stop in Dorchester, stopping to wave, a wide grin on his face, at another flock of honking cars. He dismissed predictions that Markey has already clinched the race, pointing to the strong response he’s seeing at every stop he’s made in recent weeks.
“This comes down to election day, and we’ve got an awful lot of support across the state; we’ve just got to get them out. So we’ll get them out,” he said Sunday, a day after he had also barnstormed the state from South Boston to Worcester.
But the support for the congressman was not uniform, even from voters who have ticked the box for a Kennedy before.
Michael Devney, a 64-year-old Cambridge resident, said Sunday he’s voted for Kennedys in years past but is supporting Markey in this primary.
“I don’t just get rid of people because they happen to be a little bit older,” he said. “He’s still doing his job.”