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Sen. Markey Defeats Republican O'Connor, Will Head Back To Washington

Sen. Ed Markey raises a fist in celebration after turning aside a strong primary challenge from U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Sen. Ed Markey raises a fist in celebration after turning aside a strong primary challenge from U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Democratic Sen. Ed Markey cruised to another six-year Senate term Tuesday night, defeating Republican challenger and political outsider Kevin O'Connor. The Associated Press declared Markey the winner soon after polls closed.

Markey, the longest serving member of the state's Congressional delegation, was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1976, and won his first race for the Senate in 2013 when he succeeded John Kerry in a special election. Now, at the age of 74, he has the opportunity to remain in the Senate at least until he is 80.

Speaking to supporters Tuesday night, Markey laid out a list of progressive policy goals that he said were vindicated by his win.

“In 2021, we will put justice on the floor of the United State’s Senate. We will fight for comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship for all 11 million immigrants living in the United States,” Markey said. “We will fight for expanding the Supreme Court and restoring faith in this institution vital to our democracy. We will fight for workers rights, collective bargaining, and retirement security.”

From the start it was an uphill climb for O'Connor, a conservative Republican and a supporter of President Trump, who ran as a political outsider offering what he called "a common sense" approach to government.

"I believe we have advanced the cause of public safety, [and] of good jobs for Massachusetts." O'Connor told supporters gathered at Amrheins in South Boston Tuesday night.

Markey was helped by voters like Pat Hartvigsen, a Democrat from Groton, who said she was relatively unfamiliar with O’Connor.

“I don’t know much about Kevin [O’Connor],” she said. “But I supported Markey because he was steady and progressive. Certainly [he is] right on climate, and just an articulate and good Senator.”

During his campaign, O'Connor tried to hit Markey with the same argument that Rep. Joe Kennedy III used during the hard-fought Democratic primary: that Markey has been in Washington too long and spends too little time in Massachusetts.

Dysfunction in Congress, O'Connor said, is fueled by entitled politicians who have been there too long. O'Connor advocated for term limits, and promised that if elected to the Senate, he would serve no more than two terms.

As he did against Kennedy, Markey pushed back against O'Connor, citing his decades-long record of fighting for progressive causes — from the nuclear freeze movement in the 1980s, to telecom reform and stricter fuel efficiency standards, to co-sponsoring the Green New Deal — while linking O'Connor to an unpopular president.

"You know you're a Donald Trump when you don't wear a mask in public just like Mr. O'Connor," Markey said during his one debate with O'Connor in early October. "You know you're a Trump Republican when you're not willing to talk about the magnitude of the climate threat to our planet and what the solution should be."

Although O'Connor supports President Trump, he argued that he is not in lock-step with him.

"I think the president has done some things well; he's done some things in a manner that I would do differently," he told WBUR last month.

O'Connor gave Trump credit for a strong economy before the pandemic, and applauded Operation Warp Speed — Trump's push to develop a vaccine quickly. But while Markey focused on racial justice, O'Connor, like Trump, said the current moment should be about law and order.

"[Markey] wants to defund the police," he said. "I want to defend the police."

During his campaign, Markey called for "reimagining" local police forces rather than defunding. If returned to the Senate, he said he would fight for overhauling the criminal justice system. His plans include providing more money for education, health care and prevention, as well as ending qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that can thwart lawsuits against police facing allegations of abuse.

O'Connor was hoping to follow in the footsteps of Republican Scott Brown, who was elected to the Senate in 2010 after Sen. Edward Kennedy died. But it's a different world today: while Brown rode a wave of anti-Washington Tea Party energy, Markey's primary victory over Kennedy followed by Tuesday night's win against O'Connor demonstrated deep support for the veteran lawmaker in Massachusetts.

"There's a depth of commitment [to Markey] that's hard to shake," said George Bachrach, the former president of the Massachusetts Environmental League and a long-time Markey supporter. "And almost before you get to any other issue of substance, Massachusetts is just not going to support the Trump-McConnell regime."

Correction: A previous version of this story included a quote from Markey's primary victory speech. It has been updated.

This article was originally published on November 03, 2020.

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

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