Sen. Ed Markey won Massachusetts’ Democratic Senate primary Tuesday, defeating a member of one of the most powerful families in Democratic politics in a show of force for the party’s progressive wing.
Progressives, led by the Sunrise Movement, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), rallied behind Markey in his race against Rep. Joe Kennedy III, spurring a come-from-behind victory. The left hopes its decision to go all in to defend Markey could spur other Democratic senators to venture into progressive waters, knowing they’ll have political backup.
Kennedy reportedly called Markey to concede the race at 10:15 p.m. on Tuesday night. This is the first statewide loss in Massachusetts for a member of the Kennedy family.
Kennedy, 39, the grandson of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, was initially heavily favored in the race. Markey, a 74-year-old veteran congressman who won a lightly watched special election in 2013 to move up to the Senate, was little known in much of the state and was thought to have little chance against the latest representative of the Kennedy dynasty.
But Kennedy struggled to articulate a reason to oust Markey, who worked with progressive groups to rebrand himself as a warrior on climate change and other priorities of the Democratic Party’s left wing. A Markey campaign video, made by the Sunrise Movement and released in early August, went viral and racked up more than 4 million views.
While Sunrise, Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive groups helped fire up young people and ideological progressives to Markey’s cause, an endorsement from the Boston Globe proved critical to reassuring more moderate voters that they had little reason to oust the incumbent in favor of Kennedy.
The race ended up exaggerating the ideological differences between the two men, who hold identical views on most major issues: Both support the Green New Deal and “Medicare for All,” for instance.
The contest also scrambled the traditional generational and ideological alliances in Democratic politics. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is controlled by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, stuck with Markey; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed Kennedy. Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg backed Markey, while Kennedy had the support of both Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Mark Pocan and moderate Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
Markey will face lawyer Kevin O’Connor, who won the GOP primary Tuesday, in November but will be heavily favored against the Republican nominee in bright blue Massachusetts.