NEWTON — The US Senate race between Senator Edward J. Markey and Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III is still in its earliest hours, but at a Sunday morning brunch in Newton featuring Markey as a speaker, it was clear that many locals had already made up their minds.
“[Markey’s] record is so special,” said state Representative Ruth B. Balser, who was honored at Sunday’s brunch, along with the Senate majority leader, Cynthia Creem, and state Representative Kay Khan, of the incumbent senator. “And I don’t want to lose that.”
Sunday’s Democratic fund-raising brunch, sponsored by the Newton Democratic City Committee, was organized to honor the legislators for their “great leadership during difficult times.” But with Markey attending to speak about their successes — and his campaign materials lying throughout the American Legion Post hall on California Street, from the dining tables to the women’s bathroom — the brunch took on the appearance of a campaign event.
“I’m going to run on the issues that I’ve been fighting for throughout my career, and I’m going to continue to do that,” Markey told reporters after speaking to the crowd.
Asked what makes him different from Kennedy and what unique advantages he could offer voters, Markey focused on the issues he has made the core tenets of his career: climate change, gun safety, and income and health care inequality.
He also reiterated the call he made Saturday for a debate exclusively on climate change with Kennedy and his two other opponents, Shannon Liss-Riordan and Steve Pemberton.
“I’m up and fighting Donald Trump every single day,” Markey said. “I have been since the day that he was sworn in. . . . [I] spoke on health care issues, on climate issues, on transgender issues, on gun safety issues, every day that Donald Trump has been in the White House, and I am going to continue to do that until he is nothing more than a footnote in history.”
The Newton Democratic City Committee doesn’t endorse candidates in primary races, so Markey campaign’s presence at the event — and the Kennedy campaign’s absence — were not meant to suggest the city’s Democrats are behind one candidate or another, said Shawn Fitzgibbons, chairman of the committee. Both politicians were invited, and Kennedy was listed as a co-host for the event, alongside several other state and local leaders.
Kennedy, who announced his official run for Senate on Saturday, spent the weekend crossing the state in an extensive series of campaign stops.
But Fitzgibbons said Kennedy’s candidacy for Senate hasn’t been particularly well-received by many Newton Democrats, who feel they’re being given a tough choice: remain loyal to their incumbent senator, or support the congressman they’ve elected to the House four times in the past seven years.
Most Democratic voters in Newton like both Markey and Kennedy, and having to choose one over the other feels counterproductive to strengthening the Democratic Party as it faces intense challenges on a national level, Fitzgibbons said.
“What people are upset about is everybody wants to get rid of Trump,” he said. “Now everybody’s going to get wrapped up into this race in Massachusetts where the candidates are basically the same.”
State Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg, who is considering running for Kennedy’s House seat and filed a statement of candidacy last week, said Sunday that “there are a lot of people who committed to Ed Markey,” and those people aren’t going to turn their backs on that.
All three honorees said after the brunch that they would support Markey.
“I wish I could still keep them where they are,” said Creem, of the two candidates. “I think Joe Kennedy’s great, but I don’t see what we’re changing here.”
If Markey and Kennedy were both newcomers to the Senate race, Creem said, the decision between the two might be more challenging.
“But that isn’t the case,” Creem said. “Change for change’s sake doesn’t mean anything.”
Khan expressed similar frustration, calling Kennedy’s run “bad timing.”
“I think the world of Joe Kennedy. I also feel that Ed Markey has done a great job,” said Khan. “The worry is we’re going to spend so much time on this when we should be working on other states and flipping other states [in the Senate].”