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The End of the Kennedys


BY: Emily Thom



Incumbent senator Edward J. Markey defended his seat in the Massachusetts primary on September 1, 2020. His victory over Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III marks the Kennedy dynasty’s first-ever electoral loss in Massachusetts. Ed Markey won 54 percent of the vote in a generational clash that proved today’s progressive left is unimpressed by the storied political dynasty of the twentieth century. 


First elected to Congress in 1976, Ed Markey is a veteran progressive. Markey partnered with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez after her election in 2019 to introduce the Green New Deal and supports “Medicare for All”. During his campaign, Markey boasted having written legislation providing affordable internet access to schools, improving vehicle standards for fuel economy, and raising billions of dollars for Alzheimer’s research. He also garnered support from progressive groups, such as the Sunrise Movement, for his climate change advocacy. In his victory speech, the senator recognized his millennial support base, announcing that “tonight’s victory is a tribute to those young people”.


However, Edward Markey’s campaign in the marquee Democratic Senate primary of 2020 got off to a rough start. Kennedy, aged 39, began the race in the lead, offering a generational change with a campaign centered around economic and social justice. A poll in the Boston Globe identified Kennedy as the more liberal candidate by an eighteen-point margin. Moreover, Markey scrambled to gather enough signatures to be on the ballot this past spring. Despite his lacking political identity in Massachusetts, Ed Markey triumphed by simply allowing his supporters to create one for him. With virtually no ideological differences between the two Democratic candidates, the race boiled down to a generational clash. 


Kennedy strived to frame this primary as a contest of youthful vigor, presenting himself as the youthful candidate to replace the forty-seven-year veteran. Joe Kennedy fell short in appealing to youth as a leader of marginalized communities, being a white upper-class man and heir to the Kennedy dynasty. In posing no challenge to the institution of the Democratic Party, young voters instead rallied behind the solid progressive candidate, Markey. Additionally, Joe Kennedy failed to justify his candidacy, offering no clear reason as to why he bid to unseat Markey. Kennedy purposely avoided using his namesake during the campaign until Markey reinvented President John F. Kennedy’s iconic call to action, stating that "It's time to start asking what your country can do for you”. From here, Kennedy’s campaign entered a downward spiral as the pandemic severely curbed his plans to barnstorm the state and encourage higher turnout among infrequent Democratic voters. By the weekend before election day, polls across Massachusetts projected Kennedy trailing behind Markey by double digits. 


The historic defeat of a Kennedy in Massachusetts inaugurates a new era in American politics. At age 39, Joe Kennedy’s political career is surely not over. Rumors are circulating regarding Kennedy’s potential bid to run for Governor in 2022 and President alongside Kamala Harris in 2024 or 2028. Nevertheless, Ed Markey’s victory over the Kennedy dynasty suggests that young voters are unphased by legacy, instead favoring ideas and policy when casting their ballots. This is not to say that the Kennedy dynasty has seen its end, but rather that this generational clash is not about old and new; it is about initiating real change in accordance with the will of the people. 


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