Markey, Kennedy Make Final Push For Votes Ahead Of Tuesday's Primary

Download Audio

Senator Ed Markey and his challenger, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy, have been criss-crossing the state in a last-minute push to get out the vote.

Over the weekend, Markey traveled from Boston to the south coast to western Massachusetts on a big blue bus, which pulled into Longmeadow, just outside of Springfield, late Saturday afternoon. In front of about fifty supporters, Markey talked about how police brutality and the pandemic are hitting people of color at disproportionately high rates.

"Here's what we know," said Markey, who was wearing his trademark Nike sneakers. "We know that that the pandemic is killing black and brown people at more than twice the rate that it's killing white people."

Voters in Tuesday's Massachusetts Democratic primary will all-but-certainly decide whether Markey will get six more years in the Senate, or if Kennedy should take his place.

Either candidate is expected to be a heavy favorite over both Shiva Ayyadurai and Kevin O'Connor, the Republican candidates for the seat.

Markey, at age 74, is in a fight for his political life. But on Saturday, he didn't mention Kennedy, who's 39 and wasn't born the first time Markey was elected to Congress. Instead, Markey, the co-sponsor of the Green New Deal with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, touted his progressive credentials.

"This election day, justice is on the ballot," Markey said. "Environmental justice — the Green New Deal — is on the ballot. Health care justice — that's Medicare For All — is on the ballot."

Surrounded by children, Sen. Ed Markey campaigns in Longmeadow, Mass. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)
Surrounded by children, Sen. Ed Markey campaigns in Longmeadow, Mass. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)

Markey and Kennedy agree on most major policies, so part of this election has been an argument over who is the true progressive. Markey supporters, including Michele Marantz, a former school teacher in Longmeadow, say the senator's long record of progressive advocacy have earned him another six years in the seat.

"I don't feel that Joe Kennedy has ever — in everything he has said — made a good case for why we should oust a really effective senator from his position," Marantz said.

Kennedy was on the move this weekend as well, talking about racial justice and families struggling amidst the pandemic, while continuing to push his case that it is time for a new generation of leadership in the Senate .

"Senator Markey is a good man and has had a long career," Kennedy said Friday at a rally in East Boston. "But he went to Washington and has not found his way back to the streets that you walk."

Kennedy spoke on a sparkling late-summer day at LoPresti Park where the Charles and Mystic rivers meet Boston Harbor. East Boston was where Kennedy launched his Senate campaign a year ago — and where the Kennedy family first launched its political dynasty. He cast himself as an agent of change, and Markey, as part of the status quo that has left too many people behind.

"For most who are struggling and scraping and striving across our commonwealth, the status quo doesn't come close [to helping them]," Kennedy said. "And we will not change that by doing the same thing we've been doing for 50 years: by entrusting our future to the same people who built our past."

With the Boston skyline as a backdrop, U.S Rep. Joe Kennedy campaigns in LoPresti Park in East Boston (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)
With the Boston skyline as a backdrop, U.S Rep. Joe Kennedy campaigns in LoPresti Park in East Boston (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)

Kennedy accused Markey of absent leadership, a charge based on Markey's travel records, which show that he has spent more time out of the state than any other member of the state's congressional delegation.

Gerly Adrien, a City Councilor from Everett and a Kennedy supporter, said that matters. Adrien said she made her decision to back the congressman after she invited both Kennedy and Markey to meet her constituents.

"They really liked Kennedy," she said. "They really understood him. They didn't know Markey, and for me that was a shocker because he's our U.S. Senator. And that says something."

Kennedy brings a certain mystique, which says something as well, according to Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, another Kennedy supporter. At the East Boston event, Tompkins evoked the memory of his own grandmother, who, he said, had three pictures on her kitchen wall.

"One was of of Jesus; one was of Martin Luther King, and the other was of [President] John Kennedy," Tompkins said to cheering supporters. "And so, when it came time to actually be part of the Kennedy mystique, do you think I wanted to get up to heaven and have my grandmother smack me up the back of the neck and say, 'boy, what could you have been thinking about?' "

So Kennedy, the descendant of political royalty, and Markey, the son of a milkman might share similar politics, but they are separated by age and background, competing in a race that has become strikingly bitter.

"Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is right when she says, 'it's not a question of your age, it's the age of your ideas,' " Markey said. "If [this is campaign is about] ideas, I'm the youngest guy in this race."

There's evidence that some people agree with that. The most recent polls suggest that Markey is leading in this race thanks in large part to younger voters. Kennedy has just a few hours left to close the gap — or risk becoming the Kennedy who lost in Massachusetts.

This segment aired on August 31, 2020.


Headshot of Anthony Brooks

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



More from WBUR

Listen Live