Sen. Markey Completes Rally to Defeat Kennedy
By Matt Murphy and Colin A. Young
State House News Service
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey withstood a challenge from U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III on Tuesday and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal fended off Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse on a night when two incumbents claimed victories and delivered a split decision for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
Markey, who at 74 has spent more than four decades in Congress, successfully defined himself as a progressive champion, using endorsements from people like U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and his co-sponsorship of the Green New Deal to endear himself to young, liberal voters.
"The time to be timid is past. The age of incrementalism is over. Now is our moment to think big, to build big, to be big. This is what this election is all about. This is what this moment demands," Markey declared in a victory speech outside the Malden Public Library.
Neal, meanwhile, fought off a challenge from his left with the institutional support that comes from having served in Congress for 16 terms, touting his ability to bring jobs and funding back to central and western Massachusetts.
"I delivered and my intention is to keep delivering," Neal said.
The primary victory puts Markey in the pole position to win another six-year term in November. He will face Kevin O'Connor, a Dover resident and Boston attorney who defeated right-wing provocateur Shiva Ayyadurai in the Republican primary.
Kennedy, who is the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, the son of a former Congressman and the first Kennedy to lose a political race in Massachusetts, started his campaign with an advantage in the polls and fundraising, but saw both leads evaporate as COVID-19 upended the race and he struggled to convince Democrats that Markey deserved to be forced into retirement.
Kennedy, when he called Markey to concede, trailed the senator 55 percent to 45 percent with less than half the vote counted.
In a concession speech outside his Watertown headquarters, Kennedy said he did not regret taking the risk of challenging an incumbent of his own party, and told his supporters, "I know that we are not done."
"It's worth being in the ring. It's worth the fight," he said, offering advice to his two small children.
Kennedy also called his family "role models" after he said his famous last name "was invoked far more often than I anticipated in this race."
"You are my example of what public service should be and can be when it is done with courage and grit," Kennedy said.
Markey accused Kennedy's father Joseph Kennedy II of financing a super PAC in the race, and repurposed John F. Kennedy's inaugural line in a video during which he said, "It's time to start asking what your country can do for you."
The incumbent started his re-election campaign an underdog to the younger, more well-known Kennedy, but found his groove as pandemic conditions improved, both on the trail and with a savvy social media campaign that made his affinity for ice cream and vintage Nike basketball sneakers things of fascination.
"This campaign has always been about the young people of this country, you are our future. And thank you for believing in me because I believe in you. And if we all keep believing together, we just may get my sneakers to last another eight weeks on the campaign trail," the senator joked during his speech Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, the same progressives who rallied to Markey's defense, despite reveling in knocking off stalwarts of Washington to send people like Ocasio-Cortez to Congress, were unable to do the same in western Massachusetts where Neal, who chairs the influential Ways and Means Committee, held on for another term.
Morse scored endorsements from Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush, who earlier this cycle won an upset in St. Louis, but could not get over the top as Neal criticized the young Democrat's record as mayor of a struggling former mill city.
LGBTQ Victory Fund, an organization that works to elect openly LGBTQ candidates around the country, issued a statement when it became clear that Morse's challenge would come up short, saying Morse lost "after a coordinated homophobic attack was launched against him in the final weeks of his campaign."
In August, the University of Massachusetts Amherst College Democrats alleged that Morse had inappropriate sexual relations with college students, causing the university to investigate and calling into question the involvement of state Democratic Party officials.
The details of Morse's personal life became headline material and his team was forced to address the story late in the primary campaign season.
Neal, the dean of the Massachusetts delegation, was endorsed in the closing days of the campaign by Gov. Charlie Baker, a moderate Republican who helped cement the incumbent's image as a Washington power-broker who has and can deliver for Massachusetts.
"I won again tonight with working class Democrats," Neal said, delivering a victory speech from Union Station in Springfield where he announced his first campaign for Springfield City Council in 1977 and later secured federal funding to rehabilitate and reopen the station in 2017.
"It was those union men and women who helped redevelop this building and they stayed with me as they have for all of these years. Union Station is an example of the following truth: Government can change lives," Neal said.
Morse didn't mince words in his concession speech.
Though he congratulated Neal off the top, the challenger lit into the incumbent and called on his supporters to hold elected officials more accountable for action or inaction on issues like health care access, addiction treatment services, housing, climate change and more.
"And I know we ran against, again, one of the most powerful incumbents in Congress, but when you look at our communities and what people are struggling with ... you would never know we have one of the most powerful members of Congress representing us because time and time again we have a member of Congress that is using his power to benefit the corporations and special interests that invest vast amounts of money in his campaign," Morse said.
The Holyoke mayor said the sudden injection of his personal and sex life into the race was the result of "a coordinated political attack that goes all the way up to Washington, D.C., Congressman Neal, the people around him [and] the Massachusetts Democratic Party."
The outcome leaves Kennedy with an uncertain future in politics. Just two years ago as a third-term Congressman, Kennedy was tapped by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to deliver the Democratic response to the State of the Union and appeared to be a leader on the rise.
Now, he is out of politics, at least for the time being.
Both Kennedy and Markey spent over $10 million each on their races, flooding the airwaves with ads, and super PACs on both sides added to the arms race as the campaign got contentious in the closing weeks.
Over the course of multiple debates, the two Democrats tangled over Markey's votes on crime and immigration bills, and Kennedy's evolving position on Medicare for All. But the two really diverged less over policy than personality, and how the power and prestige of a Senate seat should be wielded.
The outcome also marked another big win for top Markey advisor John Walsh, who in 2006 helped elect Deval Patrick, who ran as a Beacon Hill outsider, as the state’s first African-American governor.
The Fourth Congressional District House seat Kennedy vacated to run for Senate was going down to the wire. Newton City Councilor and Marine veteran Jake Auchincloss and former Deval Patrick advisor and non-profit business leader Jesse Mermell appeared to have summited a huge field that included nine names on the ballot Tuesday, despite only seven remaining active in the race.
Mermell led Auchincloss by about 1,100 votes at about 11:30 p.m. when about two-thirds of ballots had been counted. Newton City Councilor Becky Grossman was running close behind in third.
The eventual winner will face former Attleboro city councilor and retired Air Force officer Julie Hall, who was declared the winner of Tuesday's Republican primary.
U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, of Salem, and U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, of South Boston, also both won in their contested primaries. In Lynch's case, the incumbent does not have a Republican challenger in November.
He defeated Massachusetts General Hospital infectious disease physician Robbie Goldstein.
Moulton defeated two challengers - former State House staffer, gun control advocate and Massachusetts Life Sciences Center official Angus McQuilken and immigration policy expert and maternal health advocate Jamie Belsito.
The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate action group, claimed credit for helping Markey recover from his early deficit to Kennedy and put climate change at the forefront of the debate in the Senate race.
"Sunrise Movement helped Markey win the youth vote, win the internet, and define himself as the clear progressive choice in this race," said Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of Sunrise Movement. "Perhaps just as significant, the visible and enthusiastic support from the youth of Sunrise made it nearly impossible for Kennedy to credibly position himself as the candidate of generational change."
Markey, in his remarks, elevated the issue of climate change above all others.
"There will be no peace, no justice and no prosperity unless we stop the march to climate destruction," Markey said. "This is a matter of life and death. The very future of our civilization depends on it. There is no time for simply doing what we can."