How To Tell the Difference Between Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy III? Political Scientists Weigh In

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Two Massachusetts Democrats are running for a U.S. Senate seat, but it’s hard to tell the difference between the two of them when it comes to issues.

Incumbent U.S. Senator Ed Markey and his primary challenger U.S. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III generally agree on major policies. They support the Green New Deal, they’re for single-payer health care, they want a federal minimum wage of at least $15 an hour, they support the Equality Act, and they have previously earned endorsements from Planned Parenthood.

So what is this election about and what should voters be looking for? A few political scientists weigh in on the matter.

Maurice Cunningham, a political scientist at UMass Boston, said it breaks down to Kennedy wanting to be in the Senate and not much else.

“Markey has a longer record of progressiveness on key issues like the environment, net neutrality, nuclear freeze (back in the day),” Cunningham wrote in an email message. “JK basically saw what he regards as a vulnerable incumbent and his path blocked otherwise. It could be a while for a Senate seat to open up and if one does (Warren as VP or a cabinet pick under Biden) there could be strong competition from popular Dems like Maura Healey or Ayanna Pressley. There is the usual talk about a younger perspective etc. but that doesn’t amount to much.”

UMass Lowell political scientist John Cluverius said this election will be tough for Democratic voters — because there’s not a clear-cut reason to pick one over the other.

“If this race seems to be about petty differences between the two candidates, that’s because, for most voters, it is,” Cluverius told New Boston Post in an email message. “This will really come down to gut-level favorability; which candidate the voters like more personally.”

Cluverius said this approach is difficult for candidates to use during the coronavirus pandemic because they have not been able to do in-person events in more than two months.

“To make a campaign personal, you need personal touches, and personal touches are bad for public health,” he said.

“So what we’re left with, as voters, is a campaign that doesn’t make a lot of difference to a lot of people, and unfortunately, the small group of people who care deeply about the race is all on Twitter,” he added. “Markey supporters are very gung-ho for Markey, and Kennedy supporters are very gung-ho for Kennedy. Neither candidate has something that would obviously disqualify them among Democratic primary voters. It’s a mess.”

Emerson College political scientist Mneesha Gellman acknolwedges the race does not give voters much to work with.

She told New Boston Post in a telephone interview that it comes down to whether or not voters are happy with Markey, or think someone else would be more effective in his seat.

“Given the policy stances, I don’t know how well the average voter will be able to differentiate,” Gellman said. “What I think people could catch people’s attention is experience. Markey’s been in office since about 1976. The average voter might say this is someone who has connections and knows how to get things done. However, people are also interested in shaking things up. 

“Even with parallel policy stances, people might be drawn to Kennedy because he represents change and is someone new,” she added. “It’s hard in this crazy political moment to know if people will want a continuation of the status quo — in terms of a face — or if they want to shake things up.”

The next televised Markey-Kennedy debate is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, June 1.