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Democrats dread Kennedy-Markey showdown in 2020

Democratic lawmakers are expressing frustration over the decision from Rep. Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedyWarren says she'll run for reelection to Senate Five centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote LIVE COVERAGE: House votes to name Speaker MORE III (D-Mass.) to challenge Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeySenators ask airlines to offer cash refunds for unused flight credits Civilian Climate Corps can help stem rural-urban divide Senate votes to nix Trump rule limiting methane regulation 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 ButterfieldThe Memo: How liberal will the Biden presidency be? Democrats vow to go 'bold' — with or without GOP CBC 'unequivocally' endorses Shalanda Young for White House budget chief 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 LowenthalFace mask PPE is everywhere now — including the ocean Native Americans urge Deb Haaland to help tackle pollution in communities of color Bipartisan bill seeks to raise fees for public lands drilling 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 PelosiThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden reverses Trump limits on transgender protections The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Infrastructure, Cheney ouster on deck as Congress returns This week: Congressional leaders to meet with Biden amid GOP reckoning 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 ClintonAmerica departs Afghanistan as China arrives Young, diverse voters fueled Biden victory over Trump McConnell: Taliban could take over Afghanistan by 'the end of the year' MORE lost to President TrumpDonald TrumpCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Overnight Health Care: FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine for adolescents | Biden administration reverses limits on LGBTQ health protections Overnight Defense: US fires 30 warning shots at Iranian boats | Kabul attack heightens fears of Afghan women's fates | Democratic Party leaders push Biden on rejoining Iran deal MORE in 2016 and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Memo: Outrage rises among liberals over Israel The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Infrastructure, Cheney ouster on deck as Congress returns Warren says she'll run for reelection to Senate 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 PressleyWarren says she'll run for reelection to Senate Bush testifies before Congress about racist treatment Black birthing people face during childbirth, pregnancy Genetic material from 1993 killing revealed years after another man executed for crime, groups say 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 KerryChina emitted more greenhouse gasses than US, developed world combined in 2019: analysis Overnight Energy: Republicans request documents on Kerry's security clearance process| EPA official directs agency to ramp up enforcement in overburdened communities | Meet Flint prosecutor Kym Worthy Republicans request documents on Kerry's security clearance process 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-CortezThe Memo: Outrage rises among liberals over Israel Battle lines drawn over Biden's support for vaccine waivers Overnight Energy: Update on Biden administration conservation goals | GOP sees opportunity to knock Biden amid rising gas prices | Push for nationwide electric vehicle charging stations 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.