Key Questions, Answered, As Markey And Kennedy Debate Monday Evening

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Rep. Joe Kennedy, left, and Sen. Ed Markey in a composite image. (AP)
Rep. Joe Kennedy, left, and Sen. Ed Markey in a composite image. (AP)

When Congressman Joe Kennedy III launched his campaign last September against fellow Democrat, Sen. Ed Markey, it was billed as one the hottest primary races in the country. But then the coronavirus pandemic hit and shut down much of America, including traditional political campaigning, forcing Kennedy and Markey to effectively suspend their campaigns.

Since then, they’ve had to adapt to a virtual political existence. Kennedy has been hosting weekly Facebook live events; Markey, too, has shifted his campaign and Senate work to an online and virtual reality: no rallies, no high fives, no possibility to get up close and personal with Massachusetts voters who have been focused on the challenges of the pandemic.

So, for the most part, the campaign has dropped out of sight. But there is a lot at stake for Massachusetts, as Kennedy seeks to oust Markey, the state’s longest-serving member of Congress.

Here are some key questions about Monday's debate:

Where and when is the debate, and how can I follow it?

The debate takes place in Springfield at 7 p.m. Monday. There will be no live audience.

It’s presented by WBUR, MassLive, Western Mass News, The Boston Globe, WCVB News Channel 5 and the University of Massachusetts Boston’s John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies.

You can watch it on WCVB or see a livestream and listen to it on WBUR’s Morning Edition host, Bob Oakes, will be one of the panelists questioning the candidates.

When is the primary election?

Congressman Joe Kennedy III is challenging Sen. Ed Markey in the Democratic primary election, which will be held on Sept. 1.

Can you tell me about the candidates?

Ed Markey, 73 years old, is Massachusetts’ junior senator and the state’s longest serving member of Congress. He represented Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District from 1976 to 2013, when he won a special senate election to succeed John Kerry. The son of a milkman, Markey is from Malden, where he still owns the house in which he grew up. He attended Malden Catholic High School, Boston College and Boston College Law School, graduating in 1972. Throughout his long political career, Markey has been a consistent progressive voice in Washington, from the early days of the nuclear freeze movement, which he supported, to the Green New Deal, which he co-sponsored with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in 2019. Markey has also advocated for Medicare for All, tighter gun control, net neutrality, as well as immigrant and LGBT rights, among other progressive causes.

Joe Kennedy III, 39 years old, succeeded Congressman Barney Frank in 2013 to represent Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District, which extends from Boston’s western suburbs to the south coast. He is the son of former Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, the grandson of senator and former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and the grand nephew of former Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy and former President John F. Kennedy. Born in Boston, Kennedy attended Buckingham Brown and Nichols, Stanford University and spent two years in the Peace Corps, serving in the Dominican Republic. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 2009, Kennedy worked for a few months as a prosecutor before resigning in 2011 to run for Congress. Considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, Kennedy delivered the rebuttal to President Trump’s State of the Union Address in 2018, in which he defended Black Lives Matter and spoke in Spanish in defense of immigrant rights. He was also a leading opponent of Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, delivering a passionate speech on the House floor that went viral.

What are the key issues that separate Markey and Kennedy?

There really aren’t any. They agree on just about everything. They both support the Green New Deal, which Markey co-sponsored; they both back Medicare for All, immigrant rights and stricter gun control, among many progressive causes. With regard to the current economic crisis, they both advocate for generous direct cash payments to working Americans. And they have comparable voting records: ProgressivePunch, a non-partisan group that rates member of Congress, gave Markey a progressive voting score of 99%; Kennedy's is 97%.

So, wait: Why is Kennedy challenging Markey? 

Kennedy's decision to take on Markey represents a stunning and ambitious move for the young congressman, who as recently as 2017, told WBUR he had no plans to challenge the veteran lawmaker.

But in that same interview, Kennedy also said "Timing is everything. And ... opportunities don't come up that often." When he launched his challenge against Markey, Kennedy promised new ideas and a new commitment to break down what he calls "a broken system."

But the biggest difference between the two candidates is generational. Markey is 73, and has been representing Massachusetts in Washington since before Kennedy, who is 39, was born. Kennedy hopes that a desire for change on the part of many voters represents an opportunity for him — as it did for Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both of whom vanquished veteran Democratic incumbents in primary elections.

What’s at stake in Monday's debate? What do the candidate's each have to do?

This is their best chance in a while to remind Massachusetts voters that they have a big decision to make come September.

Kennedy's challenge is to really sharpen his case that a veteran senator with whom he agrees on most issues should be fired.

Markey is a tough debater, and will stress his decades of experience as a leading progressive in Washington. But his challenge will be to convince voters why that matters — because polls suggest lots of Massachusetts voters don't know that much about him. And that's a problem when you're running in Massachusetts against someone named Kennedy.

What else do you expect to happen in the debate?

Lately, Kennedy has been accusing Markey, who owns a home in Chevy Chase, Md., of spending too little time in Massachusetts. “You can’t afford to have absent leadership,” Kennedy told WBUR recently.

Markey has faced this charge in previous elections and dismisses it, accusing Kennedy of “cheap politics.” He says he remains attached to his home in Malden, telling WBUR recently, “It isn’t just where I live, it’s how I live. It’s the people who I fight for every single day.”

This segment aired on June 1, 2020.


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Anthony Brooks Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.



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