The 39-year-old grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, promising a new generation of leadership, is hoping to become the next Kennedy to take a seat in the U.S. Senate by ousting the 74-year-old Markey. While the two agree on many policies, each has tried to paint the other as out of touch on key issues.
Kennedy has gone after Markey on the issue of racial inequity, criticizing his initial opposition to school desegregation efforts in Boston in the 1970s and noting criticism of Markey by the father of Danroy “DJ” Henry, a young Black man from Massachusetts killed by police 10 years ago.
Kennedy has also highlighted his family's political legacy, in part in response to Markey, who during one debate told Kennedy he should tell his father — former U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy II — not to help fund a political action committee that was going after Markey.
Kennedy also objected to supporters of Markey who he said attacked him on social media, including tweeting “that Lee Harvey got the wrong Kennedy” — a reference to JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. Markey called the tweet unacceptable.
Markey has portrayed Kennedy as a “progressive in name only," in one debate faulting him for deciding early in his career to work as a prosecutor for Michael O’Keefe, a Republican district attorney. Markey has tried to tout his progressive chops by pointing to his introduction of the Green New Deal climate change initiative, He's also referenced his own family story growing up in working-class Malden, where his father drove a truck for the Hood Milk Co.
“I could see my mother and father trying to figure out how to pay the bills at the kitchen table,” Markey recalled. The race has not been cheap, with both candidates raising and spending millions. Early on, Markey and Kennedy were also forced to grapple with the coronavirus, which limited their campaigning.
Recent polls have given Markey an edge. The race is also a proxy battle of sorts between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Pelosi has endorsed Kennedy while Ocasio-Cortez has backed Markey, with whom she introduced the Green New Deal climate change initiative.
A Kennedy has never lost a race for Congress in Massachusetts. President John F. Kennedy was elected three times to the U.S. House and twice to the U.S. Senate before being elected president. Edward Kennedy was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962 and re-elected every six years until he died in 2009. Joe Kennedy ll ran for JFK's old House seat in 1986, won, and was reelected every election until he opted not to run in 1998.
While Tuesday is primary day, nearly 1 million Massachusetts voters had already cast their ballots at early voting locations, mailing them or depositing them in drop boxes due to fears of spreading the virus.
Some Democrats worried early on that the race would siphon attention and dollars away from their top goals — defeating President Donald Trump and regaining control of the Senate. Whoever wins will head into a general election contest in a district that has historically favored Democrats. The candidate will face the winner of a low-key GOP Senate primary pitting Kevin O’Connor, a lawyer, against fellow Republican Shiva Ayyadurai, who ran a failed campaign for Senate in 2018.