Ed Markey Facing A Challenge From The Kennedy Clan In 2020?

The junior Senator from Massachusetts could be facing a big challenge in 2020.

Political insiders in Massachusetts appear to be pushing the idea of Joe Kennedy III, a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy and Grand Nephew of former President John F. Kennedy who currently serves in Congress, to take on Democratic Senator Ed Markey in the 2020 Democratic primary for the Senate seat:

WASHINGTON — Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III of Massachusetts is considering a primary challenge next year against Senator Edward J. Markey, according to a senior Democratic official. Such a race could substantially alter the state’s political landscape and has the potential to elevate a fourth member of a Democratic dynasty to the Senate.

Mr. Kennedy, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, had publicly indicated that he intended to run for re-election next year. But in a conversation this week with the Democratic official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private deliberations, Mr. Kennedy, 38, said that he was weighing a campaign against Mr. Markey, 73, and would decide in the coming weeks.

A contest between the two Massachusetts lawmakers could become the nation’s most high-profile primary race and would represent another test of the Democratic Party’s old guard. And while Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Markey are both committed progressives, the race would amount to a generational showdown between a scion of the state’s most famous family and a more than four-decade-long fixture of Massachusetts politics.

On Saturday, a spokeswoman for Mr. Kennedy, Emily Kaufman, said that “right now” the congressman is seeking re-election. But, pointing to efforts at nudging him into the Senate race, she added, “He’s grateful for the recent show of support from folks across Massachusetts.”

Paul Tencher, a senior adviser to Mr. Markey’s campaign, said the senator would not be chased into retirement.

“Ed is not going anywhere,” Mr. Tencher said. “He’s going to run, and he’s going to run no matter who is in this race.”

Speculation about Mr. Kennedy’s interest in the race began last month when a poll testing the four-term congressman’s prospects against the senator was reported by Politico. Mr. Kennedy’s aides would not deny that they had commissioned the poll, and on Friday, a Democratic official confirmed that Mr. Kennedy had paid for the survey.

The poll, which even Mr. Markey’s advisers acknowledged would most likely show the popular Mr. Kennedy leading, was followed by the creation of a group — Jump in, Joe! — aimed at drafting the congressman into the Senate race.

The group has already created a website and a Facebook pageseeking supporters to sign a petition to nudge Mr. Kennedy into running.

“We think Congressman Kennedy should run for the United States Senate not simply to oppose any person or because his last name is Kennedy,” the group states on its website. “The congressman should run because our country is vulnerable, and he has demonstrated that he has the energy, courage, and progressive ideas to fight for the Commonwealth and put our nation on a more just course.”

More from The Boston Globe:

WASHINGTON — Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III is weighing a primary challenge to Senator Edward J. Markey, according to a person close to Kennedy and a Democratic congressional source, a move that would upend Massachusetts politics and trigger a potentially divisive intraparty fight.

Kennedy will make a decision about whether to run in the coming weeks, the person close to him said, adding that the four-term congressman began weighing the idea recently after he was approached by people urging him to make the bid.

The 38-year-old scion of the nation’s most famous political family paid for a poll in recent weeks testing a matchup against the 73-year-old Markey, according to two Democratic operatives familiar with the poll. The survey found voters favored Kennedy by a small margin, according to several people familiar with the results.

Publicly, Kennedy’s team has said he plans to run for another term for the Fourth Congressional District, which stretches from Brookline and Newton south to Fall River. His behind-the-scenes consideration of a high-profile primary challenge, however, is another sign of how the state’s longstanding tradition of respecting incumbentsis ending, a demise hastened by the 2018 midterm elections, which showed voters clamoring for fresh faces.

Kennedy would hardly be in the mold of insurgent candidates Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who knocked off veteran House Democrats in primary upsets in part by calling for new and younger voices in the party. He is the grandson of former US attorney general and senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968 while campaigning for president. If he runs, Kennedy would be following a familiar family path toward higher office.

Such a challenge would instantly become the most-watched congressional primary in the state, and likely the country, a generational battle between two well-liked members of the Democratic establishment. Markey, a Malden native elected to the Senate in 2013, has been a fixture of Massachusetts politics since he first won a House seat in the suburbs north of Boston in 1976, running as a political rebel unafraid to take on the Democratic establishment.

“If Joe Kennedy got into the race, he would be the front-runner automatically, and Ed Markey would be faced with the most difficult race of his life,” said Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic consultant based in Boston.

Markey has been building his reelection campaign — he had a sizable war chest of $4 million in cash on hand as of June 30.

“Senator Markey is running for reelection no matter who enters the race,” spokeswoman Giselle Barry said Saturday. “He is crisscrossing the state and will continue campaigning hard.”

Markey has collected endorsements from several members of the state’s congressional delegation, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has made a video supporting him, according to one person familiar with it.

But there are notable holdouts, including Pressley and Representative Katherine Clark, a member of House Democratic leadership who is close with Kennedy. The news that Kennedy was weighing a primary challenge was first reported Saturday by The New York Times.

For his part, the Boston Herald’s Howie Carr thinks Markey is a marked man if Kennedy gets in the race:

If it’s Ed Markey vs. Joe Kennedy III, the Democrat Senate primary next year could be a once-in-a-lifetime political event.

For the first time in two generations, maybe more, the Kennedy in the fight would be the more intelligent of the two candidates, and it wouldn’t even be close.

At his St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, Billy Bulger used to say of then-Cong. Ed Markey: “To a battle of wits, he comes unarmed.”

Eddie Markey is a guy who schemed for 40 years to get to the Senate, and then when he finally arrived, on a fluke, in 2013, his first vote was, “Present.”

After the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, Ed Markey stood up on the floor of the Senate and congratulated “the Boston Patriots.”

Ed Markey — the man that time forgot. It looks like time just got a wake-up call from the front desk.

And now Markey finds himself in line to become the latest victim of the Kennedys’ overweening ambition. Forget loyalty, forget obsequiousness — if you’re in their way, you’re gone.

The casualty list goes back well over 70 years — Cong. Joe Casey (ousted by dirty tricks in 1942 when he ran for an open Senate seat) may have been the first. The list goes on — they kept Foster Furcolo out of the Senate, Ted Kennedy wasn’t even 30 when he crushed Speaker McCormack’s nephew Eddie for JFK’s seat.

Take Carr as you will, but he’s likely right that if Markey ends up being in the Kennedy crosshairs, then he’s most likely toast.

Kennedy has been in Congress since first being elected to succeed former Congressman Barney Frank in 2014 and represents a Congressional District that stretches from just outside Boston to the area to the west of Cape Cod. He is currently the only member of the Kennedy family holding public office since his cousin, Patrick Kennedy, declined to run for re-election to the House from Rhode Island back in 2001. Prior to that, he had graduated from Stanford University and received his law degree from Harvard University before entering private legal practice in advance of running for Congress. If he does run and win, he’d be following in the footsteps of his Grand Uncle, who served in the House of Representatives for three terms before running for Senate and later, of course, President of the United States.

As noted, a race between Kennedy and Markey would most likely become one of the most closely watched primary battles of 2020. Looking at it from a distance, one has to think that Kennedy would have an advantage here both because of the family name and because Markey has been, generally speaking, rather soft-spoken as a Senator. He doesn’t appear much in the national media, for example, and he isn’t nearly as outspoken as Elizabeth Warren, who is the senior Senator from Massachusetts notwithstanding the fact that she has only been a Senator for a few months longer than Markey, who was elected in 2013 to fill the seat that had been vacated by John Kerry when he became Secretary of State in President Obama’s second term. Finally, of course, there’s the fact that whoever wins the primary will win the General Election.

There’s some speculation that this is all part of a longer-term strategy to boost Kennedy’s profile with the hope that he could one day become a contender for the party’s Presidential nomination. At the age of 38, he’s definitely young enough to start building the kind of resume that a Presidential candidate would need and, perhaps, he could become a potential running mate to a nominee in 2024 or 2028. That’s a long way off, though, and right now we don’t even know if Kennedy will run for Markey’s seat. If he does, though, it’s going to be a very interesting race

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Jax says:

    Kennedy/Beto ticket someday? Would not surprise me a bit.

  2. Neil Hudelson says:


    Maybe, if Beto gets some sort of admin job in 2020. But, absent that, I don’t see where his career goes from here. He’s avoiding a Senate run because back-to-back statewide losses will finish his career in Texas. If he isn’t part of the next administration, where does his career go? Buttigieg withstanding, most politicians can’t go from no-position (or, holding a small office in Pete’s case) to national prominence. After 2021, his resume will read “former Congressman, failed Senate candidate, failed POTUS candidate, and out of politics since year X.”

  3. Jax says:

    @Neil Hudelson: I think that assessment is pretty accurate. As much as I like the dude, he’s in the wrong state for a Senate run, even if Texas is more purple than we think. I don’t know if he could beat Cornyn, either. Mayor of El Paso, maybe?