Representative Joseph P. Kennedy plans to officially announce he’s mounting a primary challenge to Senator Edward J. Markey on Saturday, the Globe reported Wednesday. He joins the field as the most high-profile of three declared challengers.
There are many months ahead before Massachusetts voters go to the polls in September 2020, but here’s a look at where things stand as the race officially heats up.
In a recent Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll, Kennedy had a major head start, leading Markey 35 percent to 26 percent among likely Democratic voters in a five-way race. If the race were narrowed to a head-to-head matchup, Kennedy’s lead would grow even more, expanding to 14 points. The poll, which had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points, found Kennedy led Markey among every age group and across wide geographic swaths of the state.
The poll did not find a clear policy priority among respondents, who said everything from the economy and jobs (14 percent), climate change and the environment (13 percent), education (10 percent), and health care (10 percent) were important to them in electing a senator.
Markey began rolling out endorsements of his reelection bid early. Just days after the New York Times reported Kennedy was considering a run for the seat, Markey released a video of Senator Elizabeth Warren promising her “full support” of Markey’s reelection. Warren said she first endorsed Markey in February.
The Globe polled the state’s congressional delegation in August, and found, in addition to Warren, Representatives Richard Neal, Jim McGovern, Stephen Lynch, Bill Keating, and Lori Trahan were backing Markey’s bid for the party’s Senate nomination.
Notably absent from the list was Representative Ayanna Pressley, who mounted her own primary challenge of an incumbent Democrat in 2018, and Representative Katherine Clark. Both have remained silent so far on the race.
Another high-profile Democrat, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, announced her endorsement of Markey on Friday.
Markey has also received the support of more than 100 state lawmakers.
Kennedy comes into the race with a couple of advantages when it comes to raising cash for what is sure to be a hard-fought, expensive race.
He developed a reputation for being a prolific fund-raiser for Democrats around the country in recent election cycles, and the Globe reported Monday that Kennedy’s willingness to show up and campaign for even long-shot Democrats has earned him goodwill among many Democrats.
Still, some Democrats recently told the Globe they don’t want to see an expensive intraparty fight that directs much-needed resources to what is (usually) a reliably blue state.
“The most frustrating thing about any primary is that it sucks resources from candidates in competitive races elsewhere,” said Steve Israel, former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to the House.
As it stands now, Markey has $4.1 million cash on hand, while Kennedy holds a slight edge at $4.2 million, according to the most recent federal data through June.
The relatively young congressman may also have another advantage: His father’s $2.8 million campaign account, which remains open despite the fact that Joseph P. Kennedy II has not served in Congress since 1999.
A campaign finance watchdog told the Globe earlier this month that Kennedy could legally spend cash from his campaign account on television ads and mailers supporting his son as long as he didn’t coordinate directly with the campaign.
Issues you’ll be hearing about
As the campaign officially gets underway, expect to hear a lot about the policy ground each candidate is trying to stake out for themselves: Markey has made environmental issues a major part of his legislative career and recently cosponsored a resolution outlining the Green New Deal with freshman Ocasio-Cortez. Markey has also focused on telecommunications issues such as net neutrality rules and consumer advocacy.
For his part, Kennedy frequently touts his commitment to LGBTQ rights and was an early supporter of Massachusetts’ efforts to ban discrimination against transgender individuals in public facilities. He’s also made access to mental health care a key issue in his congressional career.
There are already signs the matchup could be a hard-fought, messy campaign. In August, a top Markey campaign aide shared an ugly tweet referencing mental health issues in the Kennedy family in the wake of the death of 22-year-old Saoirse Kennedy Hill.
The aide, Paul Tencher, immediately apologized, calling the tweet “despicable and abhorrent.” Tencher has since moved on from the Markey campaign.
Material from previous Globe stories was used in this report.