What Would It Take For Ed Markey To Beat Joe Kennedy III? Political Scientists Weigh In

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/07/17/what-would-it-take-for-ed-markey-to-beat-joe-kennedy-iii-political-scientists-weigh-in/

If you believe the polls, then Ed Markey probably won’t be a sitting U.S. senator next year.

The incumbent Democrat, who has been in the Senate since 2013, and in Congress since 1976, faces a tough primary challenge from U.S. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Newton). Although they agree on virtually every issue, Kennedy has the most famous name in American politics. He led the incumbent 58 percent to 42 percent in a May 2020 Emerson College poll.

Although there have not been any public polls in the past two months, Kennedy’s lead has appeared to be consistent. In September 2019, for example, he led Markey 35 percent to 26 percent in a Suffolk University poll.

The challenger has led every public poll so far, which usually spells particularly bad news for an incumbent.

So is Markey a goner?

New Boston Post contacted political scientists to get their take on what Markey would need to keep his 43-year run in Congress going.

Boston College political scientist Dave Hopkins suggested that Markey do something he hasn’t yet:  offer different policy from what Kennedy is offering.

“I think the challenge for Markey all along has been that he’s not particularly well-known within the statewide electorate, and he needs to find a signature issue that gives Democrats around the state a reason to prefer him to Kennedy,” Hopkins told New Boston Post in an email message.

John Cluverius, a political scientist at University of Massachusetts Lowell, said there are two things Markey will need to be to win the September primary:  “good and lucky.”

Cluverius described Markey’s base as dedicated liberals, registered Democrats, and voters under 40, and said he’ll need high turnout from them and low turnout from older voters, unenrolled voters, and moderates.

“Markey also needs to best Kennedy at finding new ways to turn out voters – either by phone, by social media, or by text,” Cluverius said by email. “Persuasion in this race is a joke. Maybe people who have been undecided all season will finally pick a candidate, but the easier thing for most primary voters will be to stay home and worry about how to keep their kids in school. 

“This is, as it’s always been, a turnout and mobilization election,” he added. “This race is close, but it’s been consistently close, with Kennedy leading in every poll. Candidates from the insurgent left of the party have also had mixed results in primaries conducted under lockdowns; most notably, left candidates lost primaries most recently in Kentucky and North Carolina. This will be the last big Pandemic Primary of 2020, and while Markey is probably down, he’s by no means out.”

Bridgewater State political scientist Michael Kryzanek largely agrees, although he said the clear edge goes to Kennedy right now.

“Markey is also the incumbent with a solid reputation for legislating in the areas of the environment, communications and a commitment to rectify income inequality,” Kryzanek told New Boston Post in an email message. “Kennedy, however, has the ‘golden’ name in Massachusetts politics and youth. These two factors make Markey’s task difficult. 

“Name recognition still matters and this is the age of youth,” he added. “Kennedy keeps talking about ‘change’, a clear signal to voters that Markey has been around too long. This strategy may work. Polls basically have the race neck and neck but I think Kennedy has branded himself better than Markey. Youthful turnout will be critical for Kennedy, while the traditional Democratic voters — seniors, professionals, western Mass — may hold the key for Markey.”

Markey has the ability to get his message out. As of June 30, Markey had about $4.82 million cash on hand, according to the Federal Election Commission. That was a little more than Kennedy’s cash on hand, which was a little under $4.79 million.

The winner of the Democratic primary September 1 will be the heavy favorite in the general election in November. Two Republicans are running for the GOP nomination:  lawyer Kevin O’Connor of Dover and scientist and entrepreneur Shiva Ayyadurai of Belmont.