On September 1st, 2020, Massachusetts held its highly anticipated Democratic Senate Primary, in which incumbent Ed Markey was challenged by Congressman Joe Kennedy III (MA-04). Markey won the election by a 10-point margin, with Kennedy conceding the contest roughly two and a half hours after polls closed. This marks the first loss in 27 attempts for members of the Kennedy family in Massachusetts statewide elections.
Markey, 74, has represented Massachusetts in Congress since 1976 and has held his Senate seat since 2013, taking the place of then-Secretary of State appointee John Kerry. Markey’s campaign focused on his strong record of progressive policy, emphasizing the need for effective climate change policy—highlighted by the fact that he co-authored the Green New Deal. Markey received endorsements from notable progressives in his Senate partner Elizabeth Warren, as well as fellow co-author of the Green New Deal, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14). Despite early leads in the polls for Kennedy, Markey came out on top with a comfortable margin and is now heavily favored to reclaim his seat in November.
Kennedy, 39, has represented Massachusetts’s 4th Congressional District since 2013 and is widely regarded as the next featured figure of the Kennedy family political dynasty. Due to his similarly progressive platform, but with significantly less time spent in Congress than Markey, Kennedy made the focus of his campaign the need for generational change rather than his voting record, citing Markey’s weak presence in Massachusetts. Despite his early lead in the polls, this tactic did not resonate with voters, as many began to view his pursuit of a Senate seat as a stepping-stone to an eventual shot at the presidency, while Markey’s run more genuine in his pursuit for change. Kennedy’s most notable endorsement was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who is widely regarded as an “Establishment Democrat,” far off from the progressive that Joe Kennedy aims to be. Kennedy will not return to his place in the House of Representatives due to a Massachusetts state law preventing him from running for the House and Senate simultaneously.
This race may serve as a turning point for the future of party politics for many reasons. First, it shows that having the last name Kennedy no longer serves as a shoo-in to appearing on a democratic ticket. Second, it is beginning to spark discussions as to whether the Democratic National Committee should have worked with Kennedy to propose waiting until the next cycle to make a bid for the Senate, as his Congressional seat will now likely be occupied by a much more moderate candidate in Jake Auchincloss. Lastly, this vacancy leads a wide-open door for Kennedy for the next steps of his young political career. Could we see him occupy a cabinet seat in a Biden Administration? Seek other public offices? Return to his prior career as a lawyer? For now, only Joe Kennedy knows, but the political world will be paying attention when he makes his decision.