Joe Kennedy enters Senate race; wants to fix system that let Trump win

Joe Kennedy enters Senate race; wants to fix system that let Trump win

Joey Garrison


Published 12:27 PM EDT Sep 21, 2019

BOSTON — Rep. Joseph Kennedy III on Saturday launched his primary challenge for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, calling the moment “far too urgent to wait for somebody else,” as he decried a “broken system” that he said let Donald Trump become president. 

Kennedy, speaking from a basement gym at a social services center in East Boston, made his run against incumbent Sen. Ed Markey official, announcing a campaign that will test the endurance of one of the most iconic names in American politics. 

“We have a Senate that instead of trying to harness the opportunity and potential of every person in this country, they’re trying to pull us back,” Kennedy said. “And I’m running for the United State Senate to tear that down.”

The 38-year-old Kennedy, a four-term Massachusetts congressman, is seeking to unseat Markey, 73, who has served just one term in the Senate but was first elected to Congress in 1976 — four years before Kennedy was born. He will look to seize on a generational divide in the Democratic Party.

It sets up a showdown of two closely aligned progressives, one that will likely be the nation’s most closely watched Senate primary fight of 2020. 

Background: Rep. Joe Kennedy to challenge fellow Democrat Ed Markey for Senate seat in Massachusetts

Decries ‘broken system’ that allowed Trump to win

Kennedy delivered his 10-minute speech alongside friends and family including his 1-year-old son, James, who ran up to embrace his father on stage as he began his remarks. Kennedy did not mention Markey by name during his speech, but instead targeted President Donald Trump repeatedly. He also singled out the historic significance of the setting — steps away from where Kennedy’s ancestors first arrived in Boston in 1848.

“Ladies and gentleman, Donald Trump has forced a reckoning in our nation — without question,” Kennedy said. “But to me this moment requires more than just defeating him. It requires taking on, clearly, a broken system and calcified structure that allowed him to win in the first place.”

“Our country deserves better. We deserve more,” he added. “This is that moment. This one counts, for us and for the generations that come after. The challenge is far too urgent to sit there and wait for somebody else to take it on.”

Kennedy and Markey, who both pull from liberal bases, have little separation politically and no major disagreement on any policy issue. Instead Kennedy will try to capitalize on an anti-incumbent streak in Democratic politics that has played out in other races. 

But Kennedy — the son of former U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy II and grandson of Robert F. Kennedy — is no outsider. He’s seeking to become the third Kennedy to hold a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts. President John F. Kennedy served in the Senate from 1953 to 1960. Ted Kennedy served in the Senate from 1962 to 2009, when he died. 

“You have stood by us in good times and through some tough times,” Kennedy told the crowd. “So my commitment to you, throughout this campaign if I’m fortunate to serve in the United States Senate, is that I will show up. I will be there for you. I will fight for you.”

The Boston Globe first reported on Kennedy’s intentions to run earlier this week. Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labor attorney from Brookline, and Steve Pemberton, a New Bedford businessman, are also seeking the Democratic nomination. 

Supports abolishing electoral college, installing court term limits

Addressing reporters after his announcement, Kennedy called Markey “a good man.” 

“It’s going to be a tough race,” Kennedy said, arguing that his support for “structural reform” are key differences between Markey and him. Kennedy pledged he won’t take campaign donations from political action committees. He also said he supports term limits in the Supreme Court and abolishing the electoral college.

“More than that, it’s about economic justice,” Kennedy said. “But yes, there’s going to be areas where we overlap.”

Kennedy’s decision comes despite the possibility of an open Senate seat if Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, wins the Democratic nomination for president and goes on to defeat Trump in 2020. 

Consider this: Poll shows Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren gaining in the Democratic field

The Kennedy-Markey race will test allegiances among Democratic ranks in Massachusetts and in Washington. Markey has already garnered early endorsements from two favorites among progressives in Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York. Markey has backed a New Green Deal, a signature proposal of Ocasio-Cortez. 

Markey has also previously announced endorsements from 116 Democratic state lawmakers in Massachusetts and has the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

And yet Kennedy enters as a slight front-runner, polling suggests. A Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll this month found that 35 percent of likely Democratic primary voters in Massachusetts support Kennedy while 26 percent back Markey.

Markey ready to ‘continue the fight for Massachusetts’ 

John Walsh, a senior campaign adviser for Markey, in a statement said Markey has “fought on the front lines” for the people of Massachusetts. He said he wants to continue fighting for the “issues that matter most,” pointing to climate change, income inequality, gun reform, universal health care, reproductive freedom and immigrant rights.

“Elections are about choices, and Ed looks forward to spending the next 14 months campaigning hard every day to show the people of the commonwealth why he’s the right choice,” Walsh said. “From lowering drug prices for our seniors, to expanding opioid treatment and recovery services, to creating green jobs for our workers, Ed Markey is ready to continue the fight for Massachusetts.” 

Kennedy took the spotlight nationally in 2018 when he was chosen by Democrats to give the rebuttal to Trump’s State of the Union speech. His campaign is expected to announce endorsements in the coming days, but some Democratic leaders are split. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, an ally of both Markey and Kennedy, told the Globe, “I consider it a loss to lose Joe Kennedy in the House, but he has made his decision.”

Among Massachusetts Democrats uncommitted to either candidate are U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark, Seth Moulton and Ayanna Pressley. 

Kennedy has organized a flurry of campaign stops across the state this weekend. His schedule includes visits at an affordable housing community in Boston, a homeless shelter in Salem and an opioid task force panel in Greenfield. He’s also set to discuss offshore wind turbines with union workers and to meet with an LGBT asylum task force.

His campaign released a short video shortly after his announcement. “This is the fight of our lives, the fight of my generation,” Kennedy says in the video, “and I’m all in.”

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

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