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by tom bunting, a Real Journalist

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Embers in Massachusetts: Markey fends off a Kennedy primary challenge, Neal buries a progressive insurgency

September 1, 2020 11:46 PM
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For the first time in history, a Kennedy has lost in Massachusetts.

Despite a fundraising advantage, the endorsement of Nancy Pelosi, and his family’s legacy, Joe Kennedy III was unable to oust Ed Markey in tonight’s Senate primary. Kennedy vacated his seat in Massachusetts’ fourth Congressional district to run against Markey, the first-term Senator who took over for John Kerry in 2013.

The remarkable win marks a career capstone for Markey and yet another victory for the insurgent left in Democratic primaries. Despite serving in the House since 1976, Markey positioned himself as a establishment challenging progressive, leaning on his family’s union history and his authoring of the Green New Deal with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. His embrace of the burgeoning American left paid dividends in tonight’s race; progressive groups poured resources into the race on his behalf and polling suggests he dominated the youth vote. Markey now stands as the only politician in Massachusetts history to defeat a Kennedy, while the insurgent left can now offer a credible pathway to intellectual rebranding for incumbents seeking to fend off primary challenges.

Kennedy ultimately failed to make a coherent case for why he was challenging a well-respected incumbent. An initial pitch for generational change failed as it became clear Markey’s leftward embrace had shorn up the youth vote. Polls started to suddenly break for Markey last month, as the incumbent’s campaign crescendoed into a populist, energetic crusade. Kennedy was left to sputter, spending the last week of the campaign accusing Markey’s supporters of online abuse and leaning into familial nostalgia. His embrace of racial justice meant he carried the Black vote, but a damning Markey endorsement from the influential Boston Globe eroded his standing with the state’s urban elite.

Elsewhere, House Ways and Means Committee Richie Neal fended off Alex Morse, a robust left challenger who gained national attention after allegations of sexual misconduct against him dramatically unraveled. Morse, a 31-year old mayor and recent convert to the left, faced accusations of inappropriate behavior from College Democrats of Massachusetts. Reporting from The Intercept later revealed the allegations were manufactured by members of the group with the goal of landing internships in the Neal congressional office. While the blowup helped Morse nationally—he received a surge of donations and an endorsement from Alexandria Ocasio Cortez after being cleared—it likely hurt him in the district. Analysis from The Intercept suggests that local news in the district did not cover Morse’s exonerationnearly as intensely as the initial allegations. While Morse’s 60–40 loss is tighter than Neal’s previous primary in 2018, it’s still a disappointing setback in a race that often looked winnable and an ominous blueprint for political operatives looking to derail left insurgencies.

It’s notable that both of these races played out without the involvement of the progressive left’s most influential voice, Bernie Sanders. Sanders demurred on endorsements of both Markey and Morse, possibly due to the fact both men chose not to endorse Sanders in this year’s Presidential primary. Regardless, progressive groups affiliated with Sanders flocked to both candidates, showing the strength of a movement that is now increasingly looking forward.

The race for Kennedy’s old seat remains too close to call, with a close four way pile up that will likely not be resolved until all the ballots are counted

Embers in Massachusetts: Markey fends off a Kennedy primary challenge, Neal buries a progressive insurgency