Democrats dread Kennedy-Markey showdown in 2020

Democratic lawmakers are expressing frustration over the decision from Rep. Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill How campaigns are adapting to coronavirus The Hill's Campaign Report: Three states holding primaries despite coronavirus MORE III (D-Mass.) to challenge Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyHillicon Valley: Twitter says Chinese official's virus disinformation doesn't violate rules | Hackers target WHO | Senators urge agencies to stop coronavirus robocalls Senators urge FCC, DOJ to combat coronavirus robocalls Democrats fume over GOP coronavirus bill: 'Totally inadequate' 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 ButterfieldHouse approves bill banning flavored tobacco products Bill banning menthol in cigarettes divides Democrats, with some seeing racial bias Biden cinches support from third NC House Democrat 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 Democrats jam GOP with coronavirus bill Federal lawmakers finally have a real plan to fight plastic pollution — will they step up to the plate? Now is our chance to turn the tide on ocean plastic pollution 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 PelosiMnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus Graham: Pelosi comment on Trump is 'most shameful, disgusting statement by any politician in modern history' The coronavirus pandemic versus the climate change emergency 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 ClintonBiden tops Trump by 9 points in Fox News poll With VP pick, Biden can't play small ball in a long ball world Hillary Clinton on US leading in coronavirus cases: Trump 'did promise "America First"' MORE lost to President TrumpDonald John TrumpHealth insurers Cigna, Humana waive out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus treatment Puerto Rico needs more federal help to combat COVID-19 Fauci says April 30 extension is 'a wise and prudent decision' MORE in 2016 and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden tops Trump by 9 points in Fox News poll Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike Democratic Senators urge FTC to prevent coronavirus price gouging 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 PressleyPressley experiencing flu-like symptoms, being tested for COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill Pressley, Tlaib introduce bill providing .5B in emergency grants for the homeless 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 KerryLongtime Biden adviser posthumously tests positive for coronavirus The Hill's 12:30 Report: House to vote on .2T stimulus after mad dash to Washington Conservative lawmakers tell Trump to 'back off' attacks on GOP colleague 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-CortezOvernight Energy: Court upholds Trump repeal of Obama fracking rule | Oil price drop threatens fracking boom | EPA eases rules on gasoline sales amid coronavirus Ocasio-Cortez blasts coronavirus stimulus package as 'shameful' on House floor Oil price drop threatens US fracking boom 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.