Is Sen. Markey (D-MA) Vulnerable?

By Jim Ellis

Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey (D)

July 8, 2019 — The Politico news site ran a story last week befor the Fourth of July break quoting a Massachusetts consultant saying that Sen. Ed Markey’s seat “is there for the taking,” and predicted the state’s extremist Democratic Party faction will make defeating him a major objective in the guise of freshman Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s (D-Boston) successful challenge to then-veteran Rep. Mike Capuano (D) in the last election.

An early June Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll is cited as the source for concluding that Sen. Markey is having some political trouble. In our analysis of the study, we see some Markey vulnerability, but it is inaccurate to say that signs are pointing to the senator possibly losing his re-nomination campaign.

The Suffolk/Globe poll (June 5-9; 600 registered Massachusetts voters, 513 self-identified Massachusetts Democratic (207) or Independent voters (306), 370 Democratic responses to the US Senate ballot test) is the same one that drew some national publicity because it projected home state Sen. Elizabeth Warren posting only 10 percent support in the presidential Democratic primary ballot test, as former Vice President Joe Biden led the field with a 22 percent preference score. It is not a stretch to predict that this race would likely poll differently if re-tested today.

The main reason that Sen. Markey is viewed as vulnerable relates to his 44 percent preference among the Democratic respondents on the senatorial ballot test. While this number is indisputably low for an incumbent, we must also view the results in context. His two announced opponents, labor union attorney Sharon Liss-Riordan and businessman and author Steve Pemberton, both only record a support level of five percent. Though Sen. Markey should reasonably be commanding majority support, he is still almost 40 points ahead of his closest known competitor.

The upstarts who want to see Markey challenged generally hope one of the top name Democrats will jump into the race, such as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh or US Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Newton), but it is highly unlikely that either of these men will run.

Though Sen. Markey’s vulnerability is being overstated, he does show some weakness as is evidenced in the name ID/favorability index question results. His positive ratio of 39:25 percent is low for an incumbent among respondents who predominantly vote for candidates of his or her own party.

Another troubling point is that 36 percent of the tested sample either claim they have never heard of Sen. Markey (14 percent) or are undecided about their impression of him (22 percent). Both responses are surprisingly high for an incumbent who has been a factor on the Boston political scene in either the state legislature, US House, or US Senate since the 1972 election.

Sen. Markey is promoting his own liberal bona fides by highlighting that he is the lead Senate author of the Green New Deal and claims leadership of the anti-Trump movement in Congress. His leftward opponents’ attacks on environmental issues won’t fly because Markey has long been a congressional leader and bill sponsor of climate legislation, but it does appear a significant sweep for the senator to claim he is the president’s top congressional opponent.

Even successfully promoting himself as the cornerstone of the Massachusetts anti-Trump faction may miss the mark, however. Though the state will again overwhelmingly vote for the Democratic nominee over Trump next year, they are against impeaching the president by a 49-42 percent margin, and two-thirds of the polling sample thinks that Republican Gov. Charlie Baker should run for a third term.

Sen. Markey is readying his campaign for a strong primary challenge. During the first quarter he reported having over $3.5 million in his bank account, and much more is expected in the soon-to-be released 2020 election cycle second quarter financial disclosure report. But the Markey opponents are quick to respond that Rep. Capuano also outspent Pressley by a substantial 3:1 margin, yet the former congressman was still unseated by a wide margin.

There is reason to keep an eye on this developing Democratic primary campaign, but looking at the Massachusetts political picture in its totality, very long odds should be cast over whether 2018 Democratic primary history will repeat itself when voters choose their state primary nominees in September of next year.

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