How the Kennedy Loss in Massachusetts Hints at the Future of the Democratic Party
On the eve of a new American era — January 20th, 1961 — John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States.
"Jack," as he was colloquially known to those who loved him, was a young, vibrant, and charismatic man. As the youngest President ever-elected at age 43, he would later become the poster-child for the entire Kennedy family which symbolized wealth, politics, and influence — the closest thing to American royalty our country has ever seen.
Exactly 59 years after strange, unexpected, and unfortunate Kennedy family deaths, scandals, and tribulations, JFK’s great-nephew, Joseph Kennedy III, campaigned for the Democratic nomination for Senator of Massachusetts.
Known in our office as a “firebrand progressive,” Joe Kennedy III is the son of former Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, the grandson of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and the great-grandson of Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy.
After several months of vigorous campaigning, Kennedy conceded the race to incumbent Senator Edward Markey on September 1st, and became the first Kennedy EVER to lose a race in Massachusetts, loosing by more than 100,000 votes in the traditionally blue state.
Now, Markey will face Kevin O’Connor, the Republican nominee, in the general election.
So, what happened?
Kennedy, who’s an ardent supporter of progressive initiatives such as the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, was an early frontrunner in the ripe months of the campaign season.
Several polls indicated that he was most likely to win the September 1st election. For instance, Emerson College reported in May that Kennedy was leading Markey by 16 points among likely voters.
While many of his supporters were optimistic from the very beginning, Edward Markey was able to significantly narrow Kennedy’s lead. Eventually, he surpassed Kennedy in the polls.
A week before the election, Emerson College predicted a solid Markey victory in the primary.
Why the last-minute switch?
As the coronavirus pandemic plunged the U.S. into its worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, many voters wanted an indefatigable champion of progressive legislation to remain in power.
Markey, who co-sponsored the Green New Deal with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), was able to flip the Kennedy script and portrary himself as a true defender of progressive values.
In one of his campaign ads, Markey twisted JFK’s famous quote in an effort to resonate with voters, saying: “We asked what we could do for our country. We went out, we did it. With all due respect, it’s time to start asking what your country can do for you.”
Highlighting his working-middle class background as the son of a driver for the Hood Milk Co., Markey was effective in vividly describing his experiences living in a blue-collared Boston suburb, a complete contrast to Kennedy’s persona of privilege.
However, in his concession speech, Kennedy offered hope for the future.
“No matter the results tonight, I would do this again with all of you again in a heartbeat,” Kennedy told his supporters. “We may have lost the final vote count tonight, but we will build a coalition that will endure because this coalition, our coalition, is the future of the Democratic Party.”
Unfortunately, this is an unlikely scenario.
The Kennedy-Markey Senate race exemplifies a clear and distinct ideological shift within the Democratic Party. As political tensions continue to demarcate voters on both sides of the political spectrum, the battle between the moderate wing of the party and the more progressive “Squad” was on full display Tuesday night.
Suffice it to say, the Squad is winning. From this point forward, it may be near-impossible for candidates coming from “privileged” backgrounds to gain serious traction with far-left voters.
Jeffery Berry, a professor of political science at Tufts University, stated that Kennedy was put in a difficult situation because it was hard to portray himself as the more left-leaning candidate. This essentially “left him as the establishment candidate, which was not a good position to be in,” said Berry.
This point is illustrated in the endorsement list of each candidate. Ironically, 39-year-old Kennedy was endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the late Representative John Lewis, while 74-year-old Markey was endorsed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Another factor that played a role in his defeat was his inability to answer the historically Kennedy-plaguing question in a recent interview:
“Why are you running for office?”
Kennedy formulated unsatisfactory answers that conveyed a sense of inauthenticity. In a primary-eve speech in East Boston, Kennedy declared to his audience:
“I’ve spent the last weeks and months on the roads across our commonwealth in cities like Lowell, and in Chelsea and in Gloucester. In neighborhoods like East Boston, and not one person in those cities, not one, has asked me why I am running for the Senate. The only thing they ask: 'What can you do to make this better, and when I need you, will you be there?'”
Markey won every precinct in East Boston.
Doug Rubin, a political consultant who supported Kennedy, offered his viewpoint of the topic:
“There was a really strong reason for running. I don’t think they were ever able to articulate it. That’s the problem. I’ve always felt that the best campaigns are the ones with the right candidate at the right moment. I actually thought Joe was the right candidate for this moment, and for whatever reason, they were never able to win that argument and frame the race that way.”
In order to stay in competition, Kennedy argued that Markey’s progressive image did not correlate with his actual voting record. He pointed to Markey’s support of the 1994 Crime Bill and the Iraq War on the debate stage, but that didn’t resonate with Markey’s passionate base.
Advisors to the Kennedy campaign concede he should have criticized Markey in the earlier months of the election. One Kennedy aide expressed his disapproval of the press for allowing Markey to so easily reinvent himself: “This [the primary election] goes to show you that the left doesn’t do their homework and they’re easily won over by bright shiny objects.”
Meanwhile, President Trump is using the Kennedy-Markey race as an example of how the “Radical Left” has taken control of the Democratic Party. The president recently tweeted:
“When a Kennedy loses a Democrat Primary in Massachusetts, by a lot, it just shows how far LEFT that party has gone. Joe Hiden’ [in reference to former Vice President Joe Biden] will never be able to hold them back. Life, 2nd A [in reference to the Second Amendment], Energy, Religion, Jobs and the Economy, would be totally obliterated!”
As the Democratic and Republican National Conventions concluded last month, the 2020 Presidential Election is now only two months away.
It will be very interesting to see how general election voters react to the Democratic Party shifting to the left on an array of issues. Amid severe economic turmoil, political division, and intense civic engagement, America will decide whether they want to re-elect the Trump administration for four more years or transition the United States into becoming a more left-leaning country.
Either way, 2020 will be an election year for the record books.
Article written by Jett James Pruitt
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