Less than two weeks away from the U.S. Senate Democratic primary, progressive incumbent Sen. Ed Markey and current Congressman Joe Kennedy III are still fighting to see who will be on the ballot in November.
In a potentially tight primary race, which will most likely decide the ultimate November winner in a state as blue as Massachusetts, votes on the Cape could make the difference.
“It’s not that the Cape matters more or less,” Erin O’Brien, associate professor of political science at UMass Boston and a contributor to the MassPoliticsProfs blog, told the Independent, “it’s that the entire state is up for grabs in a Democratic primary amongst two popular politicians who are ideologically pretty similar.”
Whether Kennedy, a former Cape and Islands assistant district attorney, or Markey, a longtime civil servant and avid environmentalist, has the advantage on Cape might be something both campaigns will have to wait to find out on election day.
“Anybody who says they know for sure where the Cape is going is lying,” O’Brien said.
Issues and Endorsements
Countering Kennedy’s Cape connections and family history, Markey has a history of representing the Cape.
“Ed Markey has relationships on the Cape that are real and born out of industry and environmentalism,” O’Brien said.
Markey recently secured hundreds of thousands of dollars for Outer Cape Health Services through the CARES Act and also supported repairing and replacing the Bourne and Sagamore bridges.
Markey has also been a proponent for climate change legislation in Congress, co-authoring the Green New Deal with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to promote environmentally friendly public works projects. He is also an original co-sponsor of Medicare-for-All.
With endorsements from the indigenous activist group NDN Collective and the environmental and indigenous rights organization Future Generations, Markey has also advocated for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s fight to remain a federally recognized nation.
Markey has also racked up local endorsements, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Cape Cod’s Congressman Bill Keating, and state Rep. Sarah Peake.
Peake singled Markey out as a strong ally to the LGBTQ+ community, writing in a statement endorsing the incumbent that, “Ed Markey is always with us. The fight may change but I know I can count on Ed to always fight for equality and justice.”
Though Kennedy has not represented the Cape in Congress, he takes similar positions on many national issues, O’Brien said. Kennedy previously introduced an amendment that protected the tribe’s land and announced support for the Green New Deal. His supporters who spoke to the Independent believe he’ll fight strongly for Medicare for All in Congress.
Markey, who is 74 years old, has been attracting younger and more progressive voters. Kennedy, 39, struggles to represent himself as a “change agent,” O’Brien said.
Cian Hanrahan, a rising college senior who lives in Chatham and has volunteered for the Markey campaign, acknowledged that the candidates share some views, but he feels that Markey has been a stronger leader on progressive issues, often authoring legislation rather than just supporting it, he said.
Markey, who comes from a working-class background better represents working-class people, Hanrahan said.
“I think he’s an old school progressive; I like his policies,” especially the Green New Deal, Nina West, a Wellfleet resident, told the Independent. She plans on voting for Markey in the primary.
Jen Cabral of Provincetown has similar sentiments. To her, it seems like Markey is in his “dream job,” while Kennedy is young and could seek other offices in the future.
Cabral feels Markey has been doing a great job and wonders why the state would “change horse mid-stream” by electing Kennedy.
Home Court Advantage?
“The Kennedy name still has a lot of associations with the Cape — that Kennedy lore,” O’Brien said. Kennedy is the grandson of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and the great-nephew of President John F. Kennedy.
Kip Diggs, who is running for a state representative seat in Barnstable, said that his support for Kennedy is simple: The Diggs-Gomes family has always been close with the Kennedys, and “they’ve always done us well,” he said.
Diane Parvin, who lives in Centerville, agreed that the Kennedy family has always been supportive of the Cape, and that Joe Kennedy specifically is always there to help. Parvin has also known the family for decades, working at the Hyannisport golf club.
In addition to his family history here, Kennedy also worked as an assistant district attorney in the Cape and Islands district office, where he started as an intern in 2008, the Cape Cod Times reported. Kennedy has been criticized for his choice to work under Republican District Attorney Michael O’Keefe, but for those who worked with Kennedy, his experience there showed off his work ethic and leadership skills.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Donovan worked with Kennedy from the time he started as an intern until he worked his way to prosecutor and told the Independent that Kennedy was a “keep your head down, nose to the grindstone” type of worker.
“He always shows up to work early,” and was usually the first person in the office, Patrick Princi said about Kennedy. Princi, the Barnstable representative on the county Assembly of Delegates, saw the Senate candidate in action when Kennedy worked under O’Keefe.
Kennedy has argued Markey has not been as present in Massachusetts as he should, and a Boston Globe investigation found that Markey spent less time in the Bay State than the rest of the Congressional delegation.
Arthur Caiado, a former sergeant for the Barnstable police and liaison between the department and district attorney, also worked with Kennedy told the Independent that he “looked out for everyone’s rights.”
A fluent Spanish speaker, Kennedy was always helping translate, and generally, was “always trying to do the right thing,” Caiado said.
Campaigns Amid Covid
“Most of the time when a challenger challenges an incumbent, it’s because the incumbent is weak, there has been a scandal of some sort, or they are ideologically different, they come from different wings of the party,” said O’Brien.
But in this primary, that’s not the case.
There’s also the matter of voter turnout, as many more people are likely to avoid the polls for fear of contracting Covid-19, and the U.S. Postal Service has warned that ballots might arrive late.
“It will be interesting to see how different portions of the Cape turn out,” O’Brien said. “For a lot of people, they like both.”