Kennedy, Markey spar over experience in first Senate primary debate

Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Overnight Energy: Critics blast EPA move as 'license to pollute' during pandemic | Trump expected to roll back Obama mileage standards| Group plans to sue over rollback of water law Hillicon Valley: Twitter says Chinese official's virus disinformation doesn't violate rules | Hackers target WHO | Senators urge agencies to stop coronavirus robocalls MORE (D) and 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) went head-to-head in Massachusetts's first Democratic Senate debate on Tuesday, kicking off what is expected to be a contentious intraparty battle this year.

While Markey and Kennedy agreed on most issues during the hourlong debate Tuesday night in Boston, the two progressive lawmakers sparred over style and experience as they made their case to Democratic voters ahead of the Sept. 1 primary.

"This is not a swing state. This is not a swing seat. There is a special opportunity and obligation that comes with it because voting the right way and filing the right bill? Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots Top GOP lawmakers push back on need for special oversight committee for coronavirus aid Stocks move little after record-breaking unemployment claims MORE doesn't care," Kennedy said at the start of the debate.

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"Given the challenges that we face, that you have to ensure that you are bringing everything you possibly can to restore power to a Democratic Party so that we can actually advance the causes we care about and protect the people that we care about," he said.

Markey, meanwhile, touted his experience on Capitol Hill, pointing to his work combating climate change and gun violence as well as working to find a cure for Alzheimer's. 

"On the big issues of today, the challenges of today, I've not only been leading, but I've been delivering with legislation which passes, which protects the people of Massachusetts, and the whole country," the incumbent senator said.

Some of the more tense moments of the evening came when speaking about campaign finance reform and Markey's past votes on foreign intervention. 

Kennedy drew attention to Markey's vote in favor of the Iraq War, which the senator said he regretted and blamed on "false pretenses" from the Bush administration. 

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Markey also defended his "present" vote in 2013 on Syria strikes, referring to it as a "disinfectant" that provided senators with more information about the consequences of bombing Syria. 

"Hard for me to understand that a 'present' vote is going to be a profile in courage," Kennedy responded.

The congressman continued to call on Markey to limit outside spending in the race by signing the People's Pledge initiative, which he has signed in years past. 

"[If] you do not do this, how are you ever going to pass a Green New Deal if you allow the fossil fuel industry to open up the spigot and flood the airwaves with scare tactics?" Kennedy asserted. 

"Look, we should not silence these progressive groups. We should encourage them," Markey responded. "If they want to come into this debate, speak positively, disclose their funding sources, we should welcome and celebrate them." 

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Kennedy, 39, the grandson of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, announced he was challenging Markey, 73, last year, basing his campaign on generational change in Washington.

While establishment Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots Schumer doubles down in call for Trump to name coronavirus supply czar Trump lashes out at Schumer over call for supply czar MORE (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoBiden associates reach out to Holder about VP search Five Latinas who could be Biden's running mate Biden should choose a Latina as his running mate MORE (D-Nev.) have expressed their support for Markey, Kennedy holds a lead in early polling and in fundraising.

Kennedy led Markey in fundraising in the final three months of 2019, raising $2.3 million and ending the year with $5.5 million cash on hand. Markey brought in $1.4 million in the same period and rounded out the year with $4.6 million cash on hand.

A Suffolk University-Boston Globe survey in September found that 35 percent of likely 2020 Democratic primary voters said they favored Kennedy, while 26 percent said they favored Markey.