Ed Markey’s Lead Widens in Polls Less Than a Week from Primary

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., addresses The Road to the Green New Deal Tour final event at Howard University in Washington, Monday, May 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Cliff Owen/AP Photo

A trio of polls revealed Wednesday Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) leading his challenger, Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), by an average of nearly ten percent in the final stretch of the Massachusetts Democrat Senate primary race.

One poll from Suffolk University, conducted August 23–25 among 500 registered voters, showed Markey ahead of Kennedy by ten points, 51 percent to 41 percent, which is well outside the poll’s 4.4 percent margin of error.

The other two polls, from Data for Progress and University of Massachusetts Lowell, had Markey ahead of Kennedy by seven percent and 12 percent respectively.

The contentious race has gained attention for its unusual intraparty face-off between 39-year-old Kennedy, who bears the famous last name of his great uncles President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Ted Kennedy, and 74-year-old Markey, who has served in Congress since 1976.

Kennedy has been regarded among Democrats as a “rising star” in Congress. He has maintained his reputation in part through viral clips on social media, one of which drew over ten million views on his Facebook page for his response to the GOP push to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017. He also heavily campaigned to flip the House to Democrat majority in 2018 and in that same year was handpicked by party leadership to deliver the Democrat response to President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address. Kennedy, true to form, entered the Senate race with a dramatic double-digit lead over Markey last fall.

Despite the impressive start, and despite a recent endorsement from the House’s highest-ranking member, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the young congressman has faced backlash for what some have deemed a premature bid for Senate against an incumbent who is well-liked among the Bay State’s widely progressive voter demographic. That coupled with a series of campaign missteps have likely contributed to Kennedy’s lead nearly inverting as the race nears its end.

Polls indicate Markey, who ascended to the Senate in 2013, has earned his greatest support from young voters. The recent Suffolk University poll, for example, showed 49 percent of voters ages 18–35 favoring Markey, compared to 39 percent favoring Kennedy. The incumbent is also favored for his record of climate change initiatives, including the Waxman-Markey emissions trading bill of 2009 and, more notably, the Green New Deal, which he coauthored with his most popular endorser, “Squad” member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and which failed in bipartisan fashion in 2019 on the Senate floor.

Nevertheless, many of the progressives seeking to reelect Markey attribute their support to his focus on climate change. In the Data for Progress survey, voters were asked, “Would you support or oppose a 10 year investment in clean energy infrastructure and jobs, sometimes called a ‘Green New Deal’?” A majority, or 58 percent, responded with “strongly support.”

The high-profile primary has also not gone without substantial spending; the two candidates’ campaigns have spent a combined $21.8 million, per Open Secrets. According to a Boston Globe assessment, this total reaches $29 million after factoring in super PAC spending.

In an email following the polls’ release, according to Politico, Kennedy campaign manager Nick Clemons wrote:

Since day one, we’ve fully expected this race to come down to the wire — and our internal numbers show this race neck-and-neck with Joe trending in the right direction and gaining momentum in the final stretch.

If Markey secures a victory on primary day, on September 1, not only would he be the first to beat a Kennedy in Massachusetts, but Kennedy would also lose his place in Congress altogether as he forwent his House seat to enter the Senate contest.

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