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Our One Hundredth: He’ll Be There…Kennedy Assures at Launch…

Our One Hundredth is an occasional series on Massachusetts’s US Senate Elections.

Joe Kennedy

Rep. Joe Kennedy with Hampshire County Register of Deeds Mary Olberding in Greenfield Saturday. (WMassP&I)

GREENFIELD—United States Representative Joseph Kennedy, III blitzed the commonwealth this past weekend as he launched his bid to unseat fellow Democrat Ed Markey in the US Senate. There is certainly a generational subtext to the 38 year-old’s campaign. Senator Markey is 73. However, both the nature of his first tour as a statewide candidate and his language suggests he will be making a broader argument that could have appeal in all corners of Massachusetts.

The grandson of RFK started his first day as a Senate candidate in in Boston. His day continued roughly along the Route 2 corridor to Greenfield. His Sunday included stops in Pittsfield, along the Pike in Springfield and Worcester and then down in southeastern Massachusetts. A message he echoed here and into areas close to his district was a pledge to be present and visible to constituents.

“So, I think the basic responsible of any elected official is to serve the constituents you’re elected to represent. And that starts with showing up,” Kennedy told reporters.

Kennedys

All the Kennedy men (in politics). Bobby (then AG), Teddy (then-Senator), and Jack (then-President) circa 1963. (via wikipedia)

Kennedy’s first stop in the 413 was in the seat of Franklin County. Late-evening diners in the downtown restaurant looked on, perhaps perplexed why a growing crowd was crammed into the bar area. Or perhaps the scion of the storied political family stood out as he greeted and later addressed supporters in the dimly lit eatery.

Before coming to Hope & Olive, a spot known to host Greenfield political events, Kennedy had been across the street at the Franklin County Justice Center. While the opioid crisis has ravaged much of Western Massachusetts, the Upper Valley has experienced it especially acutely. The region mirrors hard-hit Vermont more than the more urban Lower Valley, which has weathered the crisis somewhat differently if no less tragically.

During that meeting, he told the crowd at the restaurant, he had “a conversation about the opioid crisis and the pioneering ways in which your community has come together to fight back against it.”

Yet, his visit with the Franklin County Opioid Task Force, ultimately, circled back to the theme of “showing up” to learn from constituents and then bring their concerns down to Washington. This idea resurfaced during at least two other stops. In Springfield—where he visited Roca with Longmeadow State Senator Eric Lesser—and again in Attleboro.

This is not to say that Kennedy did not speak to broader and bigger ideals. On several occasions at the restaurant, Kennedy evoked the specter of Donald Trump. However, he spoke not just to the threat he poses in office, but also to the climate of disconnect and despair that prompted 63 million voters to select him in 2016.

Addressing reporters outside Hope & Olive, Kennedy also discussed regional economic inequality. Specifically, he touted the potential of rail connections such as the long-anticipate South Coast rail in his district. He made the same pitch for East-West rail—a key priority of Lesser’s—which, if implemented, would link the 413 to Boston via Springfield.

Most hot takes have zeroed in on the near-Millennial versus early-Boomer clash of a Kennedy versus Markey race. Certainly, Kennedy’s vow to energetically oppose Trump and the ideals he represents fits that narrative. Yet, Kennedy’s assurance that he would be a presence throughout the state and his focus on local issues like rail infers something else. His campaign may be betting that regional appeals could make the difference on the ground in this election.

Deval Patrick

Fmr. Gov. Deval Patrick in 2014–stumping for Eric Lesser. Patrick was no stranger to the 413. (WMassP&I)

If so, Kennedy and company were pushing on an open door here. While introducing Kennedy, attorney and Franklin County resident Tom Lesser—no relation—made specific reference to politicians who took the time to visit the 413.

“We knew that Governor Patrick would be here all the time,” he told the crowd. Former Governor Deval Patrick, who owned a home in Richmond, made frequent visits to the region. While no real estate transactions were announced, Kennedy would visit a lot, too.

Markey’s camp pushed back on the notion that he was absent from Western Massachusetts. A Markey campaign spokesperson pointed to the senator’s five visits to the region in 2019. Among the stops identified were events in Holyoke, Lenox, Pittsfield, Springfield and, most notably, Northampton. Earlier this year, Markey held a town hall there to pitch his current signature initiative, the Green New Deal.

Still, that may not move some people gathered in Greenfield. Many had dutifully contributed to Markey over the years, but nevertheless felt disconnected from his representation. At the same time, they were impressed that Kennedy picked Greenfield as a campaign stop during his first weekend on the trail.

Senator Ed Markey with Rep. Jim McGovern in Northampton just before their Green New Deal town hall. (WMassP&I)

Thus far, Markey has enjoyed some notable establishment support in Massachusetts and Washington. After years of taking progressive stances, he also has backup from the left such as his House Green New Deal co-creator, New York Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

However, the Kennedy name and both men’s similar, if not identical stances on the issue blur these advantages for Markey. Kennedy is polling well and one news report noted his support for the Green New Deal—and no mention of Markey’s authorship.

Activists in the Valley who know Markey’s record will have his back. Many are also quick to point out Kennedy’s foibles on some issues or dismiss his advantages as a hallmark of privilege. However, that legacy remains potent. In a state that two of his granduncles represented, there will be and have been anecdotes recounted and personal connections recalled.

The Recorder noted John F. Kennedy’s stops in Franklin County as a Senate candidate—in 1952—and his and Edward Kennedy’s visibility in the Greenfield area. It also touched off the region’s transition from solidly Republican to reliably Democratic, Franklin County Register of Probate John Merrigan told the paper.

“It’s always humbling for me to learn about some of the personal stories and meetings like this,” Kennedy told reporters. “I think everyone in my family who did serve also kept that basic meaning the job close to heart, which is show up.”

That promise may not be enough on its own, but it will be a powerful force in this primary.