Our One Hundredth: Kennedy Bid Encompasses Contrasting Crosscurrents…
UPDATED 9:43AM: For accuracy & clarity regarding news reports on Kennedy’s Springfield visit.
Our One Hundredth is an occasional series on Massachusetts’s US Senate Elections.
An elected in his thirties. A political mainstay in a coveted post. A sudden national spotlight on Massachusetts. Is this the 1st Congressional District race? No, this is a statewide affair…should it feature the scion of the commonwealth’s most famous political family.
This month, Newton Congressman Joseph Kennedy, III, grandson of RFK and grandnephew to JFK, revealed his interest in Massachusetts’s 2020 Senate race. Unfortunately for this Kennedy, it is still occupied and Ed Markey does not look ready to leave. Kennedy’s interest implicates a rather unusual mixture of forces. Many bump into each other in odd and atypical ways, at least for what seems like a generational battle.
Compare this to the brewing Western Mass Congressional race. A convergence of national forces, regional dissonance and individual ambition set the stage for Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse’s challenge to Representative Richard Neal. While the generational schism, policy differences—however slight—and style may define the race, the outcome will turn primarily on voters’ appetite for a change.
That is only on the surface of a Markey-Kennedy matchup. Joe Kennedy would obviously enter the race situated far differently than Markey’s current opponents. Labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan and businessman Steve Pemberton announced their bids earlier this year.
Joe is the grandson of Bobby Kennedy. The New York Senator was slain on the presidential campaign trail twelve years before Joe Kennedy was born. The younger Kennedy will have no problem raising money and can harness extent connections to his other granduncle, the late Senator Edward Kennedy. (Elizabeth Warren holds Teddy’s former seat now). As if to add an exclamation point to this dynastism, Joe Kennedy’s father, Joe Kennedy, II, also served in Congress.
Other Kennedys of Joe’s generation have expressed interest in politics, but he is the most visible of the original Joe Kennedy’s great-grandchildren. Arguably, Joe the Third has conveyed a political enthusiasm greater than his father’s generation of Kennedys have.
For example, the younger Joe gave the response the State of the Union in 2018, speaking from a Fall River school.
Joe Kennedy has only expressed interest and filed paperwork for Senate, but made no official decision. Yet, he is acting like a candidate. Kennedy was in Springfield Wednesday to tour the Paramount Theater. The facility, which the New England Farm Workers Council (NEFWC) owns, is undergoing renovation.
NEPR reported Kennedy observed similarities between cities in his district and Springfield. While WWLP said he noted working with Neal—who endorsed Markey—have done that is now helping the Paramount. The tour also gave Kennedy facetime with Springfield Latino luminaries. The NEFWC is headed by Herbie Flores, who is close to city Hispanic pols. Register of Deeds Cheryl Coakley-Rivera attended. Also there was State Rep Carlos Gonzalez, who has endorsed Markey, and Ward 1 City Councilor Adam Gomez, whose district includes the Paramount.
In Springfield Joe Kennedy III said he still hasn't decided if he will run for U.S. Senate. But issues he hears about in western Mass.,are not unlike those in his own district, he said. Namely – Boston isn't the only place to do business. Sound familiar?More @NEPRnet at 5:06.
— Jill Kaufman (@JillKNEPM) August 28, 2019
Congressman Joe Kennedy stopped in Springfield today to tour the historic Paramount Theater! I’ll tell you what he said about a possible senate run on @WWLP22News at 6! pic.twitter.com/RxoZeqxPjq
— Mike Masciadrelli (@mgmasciadrelli) August 28, 2019
The meeting was arranged through a public relations consultant, Marty Walsh—not the mayor. Walsh is the principal at Gateway Public Solutions. The Newton congressman has paid Gateway nearly $500,000 for consulting work since 2013, including $36,000 in 2019. Whatever complaints exist about Springfield establishmentarianism, this Paramount meeting has value.
In this way, Kennedy, differs greatly from longshots with few connections beyond their base who nevertheless beat incumbents.
Despite his genealogy, Kennedy face some countervailing historical forces. Incumbent Bay State Senators have lost reelection, but not under the current circumstances.
Since Americans began electing senators directly, Massachusetts Democrats have only succeeded a retiring Senate Republican once. Democrat Marcus Coolidge succeeded Republican Frederick Gillett who retired in 1930. Changeovers from Republican to Democratic senators have nearly always come with an incumbent’s defeat.
This was true of JFK, who felled Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. in 1952. Paul Tsongas won the other seat from Edward Brooke in 1978. John Kerry and then Markey held it thereafter. David Walsh beat an incumbent Republican twice, once for each seat.
Yet, a Democratic senator has never lost re-nomination. Kennedy would have to overcome that if Markey soldiers on.
Other factors complicate analogies between a Kennedy challenge and upstarts elsewhere.
Markey’s state legislative endorsements illustrate how. Markey’s support covers a swath of the Massachusetts ideological spectrum. Broadly, it reflects state Democratic Party establishment support. Most other US reps and Warren back Markey, too.
In Western Massachusetts, he has only two Democratic State Senators—Anne Gobi and James Welch—but Markey got several of the 413’s reps. Markey’s Hampden County backing aligns with Speaker Robert DeLeo. Some missing names probably implicate pending election plans or habits to avoid messy up-ballot endorsements.
Other valley endorsements highlight Markey’s place on the left and with that a possible liability for Kennedy. Several progressive reps from the region are with Markey, but one is hardly interested in wait-your-turnism: Northampton Rep Lindsay Sabadosa
In a pair of tweets, she cited Markey’s spearheading the Green New Deal and his support for Medicare for All as reasons for backing the incumbent.
He was joined by @SenWarren and @RepMcGovern. I am proud to be represented by people who are willing to take a stand when asked and I hope that more of the congressional delegation will join them as #MedicareForAll champions in the future.
— Lindsay Sabadosa (@SabadosaMA) August 28, 2019
Most insurgent primary challengers have aimed for Democratic incumbents’ left. Not all succeeded but many did. Morse is trying to do the same against Neal.
While Markey has had his liberal apostasies—most from his House tenure before he joined the Senate in 2013—he has a solid progressive record. The environment has been his marquee issues for decades. His Green New Deal team-up with Ocasio-Cortez is anything but shocking.
Joe Kennedy is no moderate, but he vigorously opposed a marijuana legalization until recently. To be fair, Markey has yet to hit the legalization bong. Kennedy came around to Medicare for All two years after Markey. Markey also submitted testimony supporting Massachusetts’s Medicare for All legislation.
Kennedy has led on other progressive issues. He campaigned hard to sustain the state transgender public accommodation law opponents had forced onto the ballot last year. Voters upheld it.
Ideological differences may not be the last word. After all, Boston Rep Ayanna Pressley beat Mike Capuano primarily on a generational argument. However, demographics in her district may have been uniquely suited to that strategy.
Kennedy may be gambling that beating Markey—or “coaxing” him to retirement—is a better bet than waiting for Warren to bounce. If she became president, there would be a special election in 2021. No pol, including Kennedy, would have to surrender their seat to run. That could prompt a mad dash Kennedy might rather avoid.
Markey has one big problem Kennedy could exploit. Although an accomplished legislator—especially during his House tenure—Markey lacks the visibility Warren enjoys. People in his orbit have warned him, especially after the 2018 primaries in Boston, he may not be secure.
These allies were probably thinking of a Liss-Riordan or Pemberton, not something as ubiquitous in Massachusetts politics as an Irish white guy.
Of course, Kennedy is not any Irish white guy, Markey has anted up and hired Deval Patrick’s top campaign aide John Walsh to prepare.
Even if one cannot recall Jack or Bobby, many still remember Teddy. The Kennedy mystique faded nationally long ago, but, it still has weight in Massachusetts. Joe can credibly channel it, but can it power a successful Senate run?
The legacy cuts both ways. Despite America’s curious waltz with political dynasties, plenty of voters are turned off by them. That may be just another of many contradictions that could follow the aspiring fourth US Senator Kennedy into the race.