Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey held onto his Senate seat, defeating a rising star from the Kennedy dynasty in the deep blue state’s Democratic primary Tuesday.
Rep. Joseph Patrick Kennedy III, who currently represents the state’s 4th Congressional District, called Mr. Markey to concede the race about two hours after polls closed, according to multiple reports.
It marked the first time in history that a member of the Kennedy family lost an election in the Bay State. Mr. Kennedy, 39, is the grand-nephew of President John F. Kennedy and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. His father is former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II.
Mr. Markey, 74, enjoyed endorsements from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party including his fellow state Sen. Elizabeth Warren and millennial democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York.
Though he’s been in Washington since 1976, serving in the House of Representatives for 44 years before entering the Senate in 2013, Mr. Markey ran as the “outsider” candidate.
Recent surveys prior to Tuesday’s primary election showed the incumbent with an advantage.
In two of them, Mr. Markey had a double-digit advantage well outside of the survey’s margin of error. A University of Massachusetts at Amherst poll had Mr. Markey showing a surge of support. About 50% said they would support him if the election were held now, whereas only 32% said the same for Mr. Kennedy. In February, the poll showed the two candidates nearly tied.
Mr. Kennedy’s name and his endorsement from party leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, made him viewed by voters as an establishment favorite.
“I find it kind of odd that Pelosi actually came out and endorsed, but it’s turned into a really hot and heated race,” said Chris Haynes, a political science professor at the University of New Haven. “She understood that this is an incumbent senator that is not necessarily unpopular.”
John Cluverius, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, noted party leadership tends to be less popular with activists, and he said Mr. Kennedy faced hurdles in challenging an incumbent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr. Markey, though liberal, wasn’t always seen as a “progressive purist.” He had voted for the Iraq war and supported President Obama’s strike against Syria.
Mr. Cluverius said Mr. Markey pivoted more towards the progressives in 2018 in a move to fend off a challenger by the progressive insurgency to Congress in the midterms, which proved to be successful this week.
Mr. Markey backed the companion bill in the Senate to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s ultra-progressive environment and energy legislation, the Green New Deal, one month after she was sworn in, making waves nationally as the progressive darling of the left.
“It also shows that Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has remarkable power,” Mr. Cluverius said.
Though the more energized, progressive wing of the Democratic Party showed up to back Mr. Markey in Massachusetts, politicos said it’s hard to tell if the far-left will do the same for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
The Massachusetts electorate is mostly white, wealthy, and generally highly educated, so it does not necessarily represent the Democratic Party’s voters across the country.
“It is hard to translate success in Massachusetts everywhere else,” Mr. Cluverius said.