Sept. 5, 2019 — A just-released Change Research poll of the Massachusetts electorate (Aug. 25-28; 1,008 registered Massachusetts voters; 808 Massachusetts Democratic primary voters, online) conducted for the Commonwealth Magazine finds Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Newton) jumping out to a large early lead over Sen. Ed Markey if the two were to face each other in next year’s Democratic primary.
The other two announced candidates, author and corporate executive Steve Pemberton and attorney/activist Shannon Liss-Riordan, were also included on the ballot test.
Change finds Rep. Kennedy topping Sen. Markey by a whopping 17 percentage points, 42-25 percent, including those respondents who say they are “leaning” to one of the candidates. Pemberton and Liss-Riordan are trailing badly with seven and five percent support. Rep. Kennedy has not committed to running but did confirm he is considering doing so and filed a Senate campaign committee with the Federal Election Commission. The filing does not necessarily mean the individual is an official candidate, but the act is a typical first step in running for federal office.
The poll was conducted in an online format, and though the sample size is substantial for a state the size of Massachusetts, particularly in a party primary, the true error factor for this type of study tends to be greater than the stated polling margin of error. In this case, the variance is 3.5 percentage points.
The poll does clearly reveal, or perhaps confirm, legitimate political weakness for Sen. Markey. Originally elected to the US House in 1976, Markey has served in Congress ever since. He won a special US Senate election in 2013 when then-Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) resigned to become US Secretary of State in the Obama Administration. Markey was subsequently elected to a full term in 2014 with a 59-36 percent margin in the general election. He faced no primary opposition in ’14.
Yet, the Markey weakness appears to go even further. The Change poll also tested hypothetical general election pairings, and Markey actually placed slightly behind GOP Gov. Charlie Baker. According to the polling results, Gov. Baker would lead Sen. Markey, 45-44 percent, which is obviously a virtual tie. But, Rep. Kennedy, on the other hand, would top Baker, 49-41 percent. There is no indication, however, that the governor is considering a Senate campaign, and appears to be little chance that he will run.
We can expect this primary challenge to percolate for quite some time. Because the Massachusetts primary is so late in the cycle, Sept. 15, 2020, the candidate filing deadline isn’t until May 9. Therefore, much speculation time remains.
Many Massachusetts politicos don’t believe a Markey-Kennedy race will happen. They believe that either Rep. Kennedy won’t run, or Sen. Markey will decide to retire after 48 consecutive years in elective office, when adding his time in the state legislature.
For his part, however, Sen. Markey says he is running, and that “ … this is the most energized I’ve been in my entire career.” The reference was not directed toward Rep. Kennedy, but rather against President Trump, who Markey says “ …is assaulting everything that Massachusetts stands for.”
No matter how this situation ends, the Massachusetts Democratic primary, even at this early point, has been anything but low-key. Though the state’s electorate is typically kind to its incumbents, and particularly those of the same party, we need only return to last year to see a veteran congressman, then-Rep. Mike Capuano, defeated in a Democratic primary. Last September, Capuano, who was serving his 10th term, fell to at-large Boston City councilwoman, Ayanna Pressley. Whether that race will be a prelude to this budding statewide campaign is, at this point, anyone’s guess.