Democrats dread Kennedy-Markey showdown in 2020

Democratic lawmakers are expressing frustration over the decision from Rep. Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedyTrump escalates fight over tax on tech giants Sanders's Massachusetts state director 'moves on' from campaign Senate Democrat's bill would allow sanctions for 'egregious' actions causing climate change MORE III (D-Mass.) to challenge Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyThere's a lot to like about the Senate privacy bill, if it's not watered down Trump administration drops plan to face scan all travelers leaving or entering US Advocates hopeful dueling privacy bills can bridge partisan divide MORE (D-Mass.) in a primary next year, setting up one of the most anticipated showdowns of the 2020 cycle. 

The party’s lawmakers and strategists say they do not understand why the rising Democratic star sees the need to primary the longtime progressive, further exacerbating divisions at a time when fissures between establishment and progressive Democrats plague the party. 

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Kennedy, a four-term congressman, launched his primary challenge against Markey on Saturday, calling the race the fight of his generation.

However, Kennedy’s Democratic colleagues in the House are not as convinced. 

“I don’t know what to say,” said Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldDemocrats likely to gain seats under new North Carolina maps North Carolina poised to pass new congressional maps Black leaders say African American support in presidential primary is fluid MORE (D-N.C.). “I’m not from New England, except to say I’m very disappointed to see a primary race between two friends. Not just friends of mine, but they are friends to each other.” 

Markey’s fellow progressive Rep. Alan LowenthalAlan Stuart LowenthalHouse moves ahead on long-stalled resolution supporting two states for Israelis and Palestinians This week: Impeachment inquiry moves to Judiciary Committee Pelosi calls for Congress to pass resolution supporting two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict MORE (D-Calif.) said that he is staying out of the primary battle but hopes Kennedy will make a return to the lower chamber. 

“I’m staying out of that one. I’m hoping that Joe comes back to the House,” Lowenthal said. “I would like to see that. Having said that, he is a very formidable opponent. I can’t imagine myself running against a Kennedy. But Markey is wonderful. Markey was highly respected in the House.” 

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump Democrats open door to repealing ObamaCare tax in spending talks Sunday talk shows: Lawmakers gear up ahead of Monday's House Judiciary hearing MORE (D-Calif.), who is close with Kennedy and Markey, told The Boston Globe last week, “I consider it a loss to lose Joe Kennedy in the House, but he has made his decision.”

Pelosi and Kennedy hugged and shook hands on the House Floor on Friday, a day before Kennedy announced his Senate run. 

Kennedy was long seen by political observers as a would be-contender for the next open Senate seat in Massachusetts. He is the grandson of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and his two great-uncles, former President John F. Kennedy and former Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), both represented Massachusetts in the upper chamber. 

While a number of recent high-profile primary challenges have come down to ideological differences, Kennedy and Markey are not particularly far away from each other on the political spectrum, both supporting initiatives like “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal, which was championed by Markey in the Senate. 

The ideological similarity between the two candidates has left observers asking why Kennedy sees the need to challenge Markey in the first place. 

“He hasn’t really drawn a contrast as to why we should get rid of Ed Markey and replace him with Joe Kennedy,” veteran Massachusetts Democratic strategist Scott Ferson said in an interview. “I think people definitely in Massachusetts are frustrated by that. They just don’t see the compelling reason so far to switch.” 

Deshundra Jefferson, a former Democratic National Committee official, said the race also raises concerns about the allocation of money and resources for Democrats in 2020. 

“It’s really hard to see this kind of race in 2020 because we don’t want to draw any more resources than we don’t have to defend a safe seat,” Jefferson said. “I’m sure that money could have been better spent on other races across the country on seats that we either need to pick up or we really, really need to hold on to.” 

Strategists say that the political calculus surrounding the state’s Senate seats changed after Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats battle for Hollywood's cash The House Judiciary Committee's fundamental choice Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire MORE lost to President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE in 2016 and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax Warren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Democrats battle for Hollywood's cash MORE (D-Mass.) subsequently decided to run for president in 2020, potentially factoring into Kennedy’s decision to challenge Markey. 

“Let’s play it out. If Elizabeth Warren is elected president, and there’s an open Senate seat in Massachusetts, I’m not sure that [Rep.] Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleySanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire Booker unveils legislation for federal bill to ban discrimination against natural hair House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump MORE or others are going to adhere to that succession model,” Ferson said, referring to the Democratic freshman from Boston. 

“So given that, and given his strong name recognition, his positive ID in Massachusetts, he’s a well-respected congressman, I think he thought that this might be his best shot, I think, from a political calculus perspective,” he continued. 

Markey was elected to the Senate in 2013 to replace former Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryWarren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Krystal Ball: New Biden ad is everything that's wrong with Democrats The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage MORE (D-Mass.), and he is now the longest serving member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation. 

However, Markey faces an uphill climb, not only because of Kennedy’s name recognition but because of what some call his close connections to Washington. 

“I think that it is going to hurt him,” Jefferson said. 

“Look at AOC’s race. Crowley got to be more of a D.C. guy, and not the local Queens guy,” she added, referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezSanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire Ocasio-Cortez: 'Won't you look at that: Amazon is coming to NYC anyway' House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump MORE’s surprising upset over former Rep. Joseph Crowley in a Democratic primary last year for New York’s 14th District. 

While Kennedy is also seen as an insider, he has touted what he says is the need to deliver generational change in Washington. 

“There is going to be a generational shift,” Jefferson said. “At a certain point, you need to make way. You need to start grooming the next generation of leaders.” 

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“You have people looking around, and they’re like, ‘Well, when is it going to be my chance? Am I going to have a chance?’ ” she said. 

While the primary is a year away, the race has already shown signs of heating up. 

Markey’s campaign has set a fundraising goal of $50,000 ahead of the next Federal Election Committee deadline at the end of the month. 

The incumbent senator also challenged Kennedy and his other primary opponents to a climate change debate in an effort to tout his strength on the issue.

A Suffolk University–Boston Globe survey conducted earlier this month found that 35 percent of likely 2020 Democratic primary voters said they favored Kennedy, while 26 percent said they favored Markey. 

However, strategists say it’s too early to tell who will come out on top in the race next year for a seat rated as “solid Democratic” by the Cook Political Report.

“I put it straight-up at 50-50 right now,” Ferson said.