By Jim Ellis
Sept. 1, 2020 — A major political dynasty will end this evening. Today is Primary Day in Massachusetts and the long-awaited Democratic intra-party battle between two icons of Bay State politics, Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Newton) will be decided.
Sen. Markey was first elected to the state legislature in 1972 and has served in elective office consecutively ever since. He spent four years in the state House of Representatives, 36 years in the US House, and was elected in a special US Senate contest in 2013 to replace then-Sen. John Kerry (D) who had resigned to become US Secretary of State in the Obama Administration. Markey was re-elected to a full term in 2014.
Rep. Kennedy is the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, and thereby related to President John F. Kennedy, and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). He is the latest member of the famed Kennedy political dynasty. Joe Kennedy III was elected to the House in 2012, replacing retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-Newton) in the district that contains the cities of Newton and Brookline before moving south to annex Taunton and Fall River. Should he lose tonight, he will be the first Kennedy not to win a Massachusetts campaign.
The race appeared close from the outset, but Sen. Markey appears to be pulling away in both campaign funds ($11.8 million raised through the pre-primary filing period on Aug. 12 to $8.8 million) and polling. Both see significant expenditure organizations conducting independent operations to support their Senate bids.
Since the end of July, Sen. Markey has pulled away. He has led in seven consecutive polls by an average of 8.7 percentage points after trailing in the early stages of the race. The latest poll, from Emerson College (Aug. 25-27; 453 likely Massachusetts Democratic primary voters) gives Sen. Markey a 56-44 percent lead when all respondents were prodded to make a choice. Interestingly, the last poll to find Rep. Kennedy leading also came from Emerson College during the early part of May. Those results show just how much the race has changed. Emerson previously projected Rep. Kennedy to a 58-42 percent advantage.
The Senate race is not the only major campaign on the Massachusetts ballot, however. House Ways & Means Committee chairman Richard Neal (D-Springfield) is striving to avoid becoming the ninth US House incumbent to be denied re-nomination in 2020. He faces a spirited challenge from Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, who is hitting Rep. Neal from his left and criticizing him for being part of the “status quo.” Like the other Democratic upset winners this year, he Justice Democrats PAC has endorsed Morse, but their spending here appears less than the other campaigns in which they became involved.
Polling suggests a close race, with Rep. Neal running for a 17th term after originally being elected in 1988. The congressman is again favored. Two of the other Justice Democrats’ targets, Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Lacy Clay (D-MO), are also decades-long House veterans. Engel was also originally elected in 1988 and Clay followed his father’s retirement in the St. Louis seat back in 2000.
The other incumbent with a significant challenge today is Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-South Boston), who was first elected to the US House in a special 2001 election after serving since 1995 in the state legislature. Boston area physician Robbie Goldstein is Lynch’s opponent but raising less than $500,000 through the pre-primary reporting period and failing to attract national outside support lessens his chances to score a victory in a state whose electorate rarely defeats an incumbent.
Rep. Kennedy’s open 4th District is the site of what could be the closest election tonight. Here, seven active Democratic contenders are battling for the party nomination, which, in this district, that stretches from Newton and Brookline through Taunton and onto Fall River, is tantamount to winning the seat.
A late RABA Research poll conducted for the Jewish Insider publication (Aug. 27-28; 497 likely Democratic and Independent voters likely to choose the Democratic primary) forecasts a virtual tie between Newton City Councilman Jake Auchinloss and former Brookline Select-member Jesse Mermell, who is also a non-profit organization executive. The RABA poll finds Auchinloss clinging to a 24-23 percent lead over Mermell, with Newton City Councilwoman Becky Grossman trailing at 15 percent, but well ahead of the rest of the field.
Today is likely the final significant primary of the 2020 election season, though we will still see state primaries in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Delaware later in September. The Louisiana jungle primary is concurrent with the general election on Nov. 3.