By Jim EllisAug. 20, 2019 — Consistent reports throughout this year suggesting that Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey (D) is going to face a serious 2020 Democratic primary may well come to fruition. As has been the case for several weeks, Markey has already drawn two opponents, first, activist attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan declared, and then author and corporate executive Steve Pemberton followed in officially announcing his Senate candidacy.
Included in the primary challenge reports was always the speculation that four-term Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Newton) could enter the race, though the young 38-year-old congressman consistently denied the conjecture … until now. Reports over the weekend say that Rep. Kennedy is telling confidants he is considering launching a Senate campaign, which would make the Sept. 15, 2020 Massachusetts Democratic primary a national campaign.
While Sen. Markey’s current opponents are credible, particularly Pemberton, whose childhood best-selling autobiography of growing up with an abusive Foster family after being abandoned as a young child was adapted into a movie, neither would obviously have the stature of being a member of the Kennedy family.
Rep. Kennedy is the son of former Congressman Joseph Kennedy II (D-MA) and the grandson of the late Robert F. Kennedy. He was originally elected from the Newton/Taunton-anchored 4th District in the 2012 election when then-Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) retired from Congress. Kennedy has easily been re-elected three times and has averaged 74.9 percent of the vote in his four general elections.
The congressman has been in two Democratic primaries, including the open seat contest in 2012. Even as the non-incumbent, Kennedy scored a 90.1 percent primary victory. In the one intra-party challenge he received since his original election during this past September, Kennedy scored a 93.4 percent re-nomination victory.
But Kennedy topping Sen. Markey, even if he were to run, would be no foregone conclusion. Though there seems to be an air of vulnerability around the incumbent within the current election cycle, the numbers throughout his long career do not provide a foundation for concluding that the senator would be in serious political trouble back home, particularly within his own party. In fact, with his Senate authorship of the Green New Deal, it will be very difficult for any potential primary challenger, including Rep. Kennedy, to position themselves to Sen. Markey’s left.
Markey has been in elective office continuously since early 1973, serving two terms in the Massachusetts state House of Representatives before being elected to Congress in 1976. He would serve more than 36 years in the House before winning a special US Senate election in 2013 to replace then-Sen. John Kerry (D) who had been appointed US Secretary of State.
The Morning Consult firm regularly polls Senate job approval ratings for all 100 members every quarter. In the latest ranking, those from the second quarter ending June 30, Sen. Markey scored a 53:23 percent positive to negative job approval ratio, which placed him as the 10th most favorably viewed senator, and fourth most popular Democratic member. Therefore, the supposed vulnerability he might have in a primary election is not evidenced in his job approval ratings.
We have a long wait to eventually see just who will actually step forward to offer the senator a primary challenge, if ultimately anyone. The Massachusetts primary is extremely late in this cycle, Sept. 15, meaning the candidate filing deadline is not until May 9.
We can expect much more speculation about this race in the eight months remaining before the filing deadline, but it will prove more likely than not that the congressman remains in his current position and Sen. Markey easily overcomes any remaining primary challengers.