On Saturday, Rep. Joe Kennedy III announced that he would challenge Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey in next September’s Democratic primary, setting up what will be one of the most high-profile nomination fights of the cycle.
Whoever wins should have little trouble prevailing in the general election in this very blue state, but along the way we’re sure to see a very expensive intra-party fight. At the end of June, Kennedy had a small $4.2 million to $4.1 million cash-on-hand edge over the incumbent, and each man has the connections to raise a whole lot more.
Kennedy will be 40 on Election Day while Markey will be 74, and the congressman has spent the last month arguing that he can bring change to the political system Markey’s inhabited since before Kennedy was born. However, this primary anything but a traditional battle between the party establishment and an insurgent outsider, and any ideological fault-lines are hard to find.
To begin with, Kennedy is a member of the most prominent political family in the Bay State, and perhaps in all of America—a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy and a great-nephew of both former President John F. Kennedy and longtime Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. Joe Kennedy is also a four-term House member who served as a DCCC regional vice chair during the last election, so he’s been an ally of the party leadership. He also was chosen to give the official Democratic response to Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in 2018.
Markey, who was first elected to the House in 1976 and won a 2013 special election to the Senate, also very much looks the part of member of the party establishment. However, the senator has the endorsement of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who very much does not. Markey and Ocasio-Cortez have worked together to promote the Green New Deal, and AOC recently praised Markey by calling him “the generational change we’ve been waiting for.”
The DSCC is also in Markey’s corner, though it remains to be seen how much money, if any, they’ll spend to defend him in a contest that’s taking place less than two months before Election Day. In addition, Markey has the backing of several prominent Massachusetts Democrats. While fellow Sen. Elizabeth Warren is close to Kennedy, who was her student in law school, she’s sided with the incumbent. The senator also has the endorsement of five of the state’s eight other House members as well as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.
Despite that support for Markey, two recent polls have shown Kennedy with a lead in the primary. A Suffolk University survey found Kennedy winning 35-26 in a four-way race, with no one else even clearing 1%; in a two-way race, Kennedy’s edge increased to 42-28. (Labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan and business executive Steve Pemberton were already challenging Markey, and Pemberton said earlier this month that he would not defer to Kennedy.)
Meanwhile, a Change Research poll for the pro-charter school group Education Reform Now Advocacy had Kennedy winning by an even larger 42-25, while Pemberton and Liss-Riordan took 7% and 5% respectively. However, despite these early deficits, Markey has repeatedly said that he won’t retire and will fight to keep his seat next year.
Want more great elections coverage like this? Sign up for our free daily newsletter, the Morning Digest.