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Democrats Joe Kennedy and Ed Markey spar over how to best counter Trump in Massachusetts Senate debate

Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey and challenger Rep. Joe Kennedy III faced off in their first debate of a so-far contentious Democratic primary for one of the Bay State’s Senate seats.

The two Democrats sparred on how to best take on Donald Trump as Massachusetts’ senator, and campaign finance reform, a sign of how closely the two track ideologically.

“This is not a swing state and this is not a swing seat,” Kennedy said in the one-hour televised debate hosted by WGBH News. He added that “absolutely” Markey, the incumbent, has “been a good senator. The issue is that at this moment … this is not about finding the right bill and voting the right way.”

Markey defended his record, and vowed to continue to lead on legislation about the Green New Deal, gun reform and Alzheimer’s research. “I have been leading and delivering,” Markey said.

At first blush, the Kennedy-Markey matchup is a face off between two opposing generational forces within Democratic politics, but the race is not as clear cut as it may appear.

Kennedy, 39, isn’t necessarily a fresh-faced newcomer — and Markey, 73, is hardly an out-of-touch legislator.

Ideologically, the two candidates don’t differ much, but the race has drawn national attention. It’s a rare intraparty challenge by a younger Kennedy against a well-established member of Massachusetts’ delegation.

But such a salvo isn’t entirely foreign. A Boston-area congressional district was home to one of highest-profile primary showdowns in the 2018 cycle: Ayanna Pressley’s successful challenge to longtime Rep. Michael Capuano.

Months before Tuesday’s debate, Markey and Kennedy sparred over a potential “People’s Pledge” reboot, which would have limited the amount and type of outside money spent in the Democratic primary race and would be similar to the agreement between Elizabeth Warren and then-Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican, in their 2012 race. Kennedy supports it, while Markey has called for one that only limits negative advertisements paid by dark money. Markey has been endorsed by citizen group Environment Massachusetts, which plans to put together a $5 million campaign to support his candidacy.

“We should welcome positive voices, disclosed voices,” like those from “environmental groups,” Markey said in the debate. “We need to have a new, modern people’s pledge. One for the Trump era.”

“Who gets to say these are voices we like?” Kennedy replied. “Massachusetts walks the walk with progressive values and we need to do that now.”

Primary voters don’t head to the polls until September 1.

Kennedy is the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy and the son of former Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy II. One great uncle, Ted Kennedy, served in the Senate for nearly 50 years. Another, John F. Kennedy, won his first congressional race in 1946 when Markey was born. JFK would later became the nation’s 35th president.

Kennedy volunteered for the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic and worked as an assistant district attorney for Massachusetts before his election to Congress in 2012.

Markey has been a mainstay of the Massachusetts’ delegation for decades, serving in the US House from 1976 to 2013. He’s only served in the Senate since 2013 — when he ran and won in a special election for the Senate seat, vacated by then-Secretary of State John Kerry. Markey has sought to shore up his progressive bona fides in the Senate, working with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, to co-sponsor the Green New Deal in the Senate. Ocasio-Cortez has endorsed Markey, as has Warren, his Senate colleague.

Kennedy’s long been interested in a Senate bid. Back in 2016, Kennedy said he would be open to running for Warren’s seat if she was tapped as Hillary Clinton’s vice president. That, of course, did not happen. Kennedy launched his current campaign in September 2019.

Kennedy also led Markey in a Suffolk/Boston Globe poll released just weeks before the congressman made his run official.

Both candidates are raising significant sums for an intraparty race with no serious Republican challenger looming in November, according to federal election filings. Markey raised $7.2 million and ended 2019 with $4.5 million cash on hand. Kennedy raised $3.9 million and ended the year with $5.5 million on hand.

Article Topic Follows: Politics

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