Joe Kennedy III, who serves Massachusetts’ 4th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives, confirmed last week he was considering running against Ed Markey, the current senior senator from the state.
This move comes after Kennedy paid for a poll that showed him defeating Markey “by a small margin,” according to The Boston Globe. Residents of Massachusetts, however, have had a mixed reaction to the possibility of a Kennedy Senate race against Markey.
Some welcome the idea, citing the Senate as just the elevated platform an eloquent and impassioned politician like Kennedy would utilize. Others have not been so sympathetic; Scott Lehigh of The Boston Globe described him as a narcissist, only running because he thinks he deserves the seat.
Kennedy said himself, “I hear the folks who say I should wait my turn, but with due respect — I’m not sure this is a moment for waiting.” This is the language of representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, who both ousted incumbents by advocating for fresh, more progressive faces in Congress.
The problem with Kennedy aligning himself with other political freshmen in this sense is that he’s far from one himself. His name alone connects him to a political dynasty dating back to 1892, when President John F. Kennedy’s grandfather (Joe Kennedy III’s great-great-great-grandfather) became a Boston City Councilor and eventually served two terms as mayor.
Kennedy is no stranger to politics of course, as he is approaching his 8th year in the U.S. House of Representatives after filling the open seat left by retiring Bernie Frank. In those years, he has developed a reputation as a kind face and a “rank-and-file Democrat.”
This is the gaping hole in Kennedy’s plan to run — he has yet to detail the specifics of the “new ideas and new approach” that he claims the race will revolve around. From the outside, the change appears to be a lateral move, one that was inevitable under the assumption that Kennedy would follow family tradition and build a long-term career in politics.
It may provide an opportunity to shatter the notion of incumbency advantage, however. Ed Markey was a House Representative for the state from 1976 until he was elected to the Senate in 2014, and politicians such as him and Mitch McConnell, the longest-serving Republican Senator in history, often receive backlash for their seniority and apparent invincibility against challengers.
Kennedy and Markey are also similar in ideals; they both advocate for the expansion of Medicare and Medicaid, comprehensive immigration reform and swift action against climate change among other progressive policies common to the state.
Elizabeth Warren, a champion of progressive politics, the current junior Senator from Massachusetts and a 2020 presidential candidate, was quick to endorse Markey after word spread of Kennedy’s potential Senate race. Her seat may open up soon, causing one to wonder why Kennedy is in a rush to take Markey’s position rather than wait for hers to potentially become vacant in January 2021.
This is all early speculation, and both national and state polls and primaries will give a better sense of Kennedy’s options in the coming months.
But Kennedy knows the primary is his only obstacle and a victory over Markey may be more of a signal of his name recognition than an upheaval of incumbency. A Kennedy is in no way a new face to the party and he is out of place as he tries to ride the recent wave of a push for institutional change.
If Kennedy plans to run and win using the tactics of the other fresh additions to Congress, he should make more clear how he is different from any other career politician, especially Markey.