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  • Frank Serpe

The 2020 Massachusetts Senate Race

With the 2020 General Election drawing closer, Massachusetts voters will have the opportunity to cast a ballot for United States President and for one of the Commonwealth’s two Congressional Senate seats. While the election is still roughly a year away, the race for senator has garnered widespread national attention. Incumbent Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is vying for re-election, continuing his 43 years as a member of Congress. Yet, his foremost challenger is not from the Republican party, but from another Democrat, incumbent U.S. Representative for Massachusetts’s 4th Congressional District Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.). Kennedy hopes to make history as the first challenger to defeat an incumbent senator in Massachusetts since at least 1913.

Besides Kennedy, as of November 2019, there are two other declared challengers running against Senator Markey in the Democratic primary. Markey has not faced Democratic primary challengers since he first ran during the 2013 Senate special election for Massachusetts. Democratic hopefuls include Shannon Liss-Riodan, a prominent labor attorney, and Allen Waters. Steve Pemberton, the chief human resources officer for Workhuman, was also originally in the running, though dropped out of the race on October 14. There is also one declared Republican challenger, Dr. Shiva Ayyduai.

Since being elected, Senator Markey has supported strict gun regulations, net neutrality, and, most significantly, climate action. Notably, in February 2019, Senator Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) (CAS’11, Pardee’11) worked across the House and Senate to introduce S.R. 59 and H.R. 109, resolutions recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal. Both resolutions seek to overhaul the nation’s social and economic systems to combat climate change, including improvements in infrastructure, an overhaul of our transportation system, and a federal jobs guarantee. Since being introduced, the Green New Deal has drawn both international praise and scrutiny. Representative Ocasio-Cortez has also endorsed Senator Markey in his reelection bid.

Kennedy, a grandson of the late U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and grand-nephew of President John F. Kennedy, brings a recognizable and established political name into the race. Among potential Democratic primary voters, there was a 64% positive reaction to the Kennedy name. Additionally, no member of the Kennedy family has ever lost a state election in Massachusetts. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Kennedy has served as congressman since 2012 and gained national exposure following President Donald Trump’s 2018 State of the Union address, where he offered the Democratic response. His campaign highlights a progressive platform, including pushing for more transparency and accountability from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, calling for a Medicare for All plan, and supporting the Green New Deal.

Representative Kennedy has become Senator Markey’s principle opponent over recent months. Polling completed between September 3 – 5, 2019, by Suffolk University and The Boston Globe has shown support for Representative Kennedy at 42%, while Senator Markey stood at 28%. However, 29% of those polled remained unsure on who to support. Markey must target these 29% of unsure voters if he hopes to compete against Kennedy’s insurgent campaign.

Age has become a point of contention for voters during the election. At 39 years old, Kennedy is attempting to represent a younger generation in the Senate and bridge the generational gap between himself and other sitting senators. During the 115th Congress, the average age of a Senator was 61.8 years old, one of the oldest in American history. Markey, at age 73, has struggled to gain traction among younger voters, a key demographic for the Democrats. Beyond age and name recognition, little differentiation in policy can be found. Both are appealing to Democrats with similar liberal agendas and views to gain traction. Nevertheless, as reported in September 2019, both candidates’ favorability rating stood at 73% for Kennedy and 59% for Markey.

Support from other politicians across the country has helped focus national attention on this race. Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has already publicly supported Senator Markey. Markey is also endorsed by 116 state legislators, several congressmen and women, and by groups like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. As for Kennedy, few have openly expressed support for the representative. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) was one of the first to endorse Kennedy, with some House members expressing more quiet support. Other prominent Democratic politicians have taken a more neutral approach, refraining from supporting either candidate.

For the Republicans, they are seeking to achieve a long-shot upset in one of the countries most liberal states. If elected, Ayyduai would be the first Republican to represent Massachusetts in either the House or Senate since 2013. Dr. Ayyduai’s platform centers around combating “career politicians,” improving the healthcare and environmental standards, and tackling America’s issues with a conservative mindset. Despite speculations of a Senate run, Massachusetts Republican Governor Charlie Baker has so far declined to run for the seat. Even with his name out as a possible candidate, a Change Research poll run from August 3 – 25, 2019, indicates strong support for Baker. In a hypothetical matchup between Baker and Markey, the Governor would just clutch a victory, with other head-to-heads with Liss-Riordan and Waters resulting in a landslide victory for Baker. Only Kennedy would beat Baker according to the poll. Having secured re-election for Governor in 2018, Baker remains a unique figure in a state long established as a liberal stronghold. Baker has pursued a more moderate agenda while in office, an aspect that has helped him earn the title of “America’s Most Popular Governor” for the 8th quarter in a row. Other Republicans face a much more unlikely path to victory, with Mass. voters inclined to support a candidate with liberal views over conservative ones.

Unlike other political upstarts, Kennedy posses a considerable risk in Markey’s quest to keep his seat. A Kennedy win would send shockwaves through the political arena, officially declaring that the next generation is ready with the mandate to lead the nation.

The 2020 Massachusetts primary will be held Monday, September 5, 2020, followed by the general election on Tuesday, November 3. Information regarding polling locations, voter registration, and Absentee ballots can be found on the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s website at As a hybrid primary state, unaffiliated voters may vote in the primary election. All Massachusetts residents who are citizens of the United States and over 18 years old are eligible to vote in Massachusetts.

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