No one has a right to hold onto an office in perpetuity, but having served a long time shouldn’t necessarily be a disqualifier. Senator Ed Markey has been in public office nearly half a century. The one-term+ US Senator has been in Washington for 43 years, both as a member of the House and of the Senate. He has been a national leader on telecommunications, energy and climate change, a staunch supporter of gun safety and universal health care access. The possibility that three-term Congressman Joe Kennedy, 38, may be considering running against him poses the question of whether, given their general agreement on issues, one should mount a challenge just because a younger generation may be tired of Ed Markey, age 73. Or perhaps voters don’t really know him or his record.
I have covered Ed Markey for 43 years, since he topped a field of 12 candidates running for the House seat being vacated by Torbert McDonald, a Kennedy insider remembered mostly for falling asleep at his desk in the House chamber. Markey, son of a milkman, visited Washington for the first time as congressman-elect. Since his days as a freshman, he has grown in substance and effectiveness. He has poured his life into serving the public on cutting-edge issues, frequently becoming the leading expert and building support for change. While his often-staccato way of speaking can be annoying, his actions have been on target and consistent. His electoral vulnerability speaks to a generational shift and, as evidenced by Ayanna Pressley’s surprise 2018 upset of longtime congressman Michael Capuano, a desire for something and someone new.
But 4th district Congressman Joe Kennedy III isn’t just the newest shiny object. He is the real deal. Scion of Massachusetts political royalty, he is the most down-to-earth of the clan, charming, bright, articulate, hard-working and, yes, even humble. A Peace Corps alum, fluent in Spanish, Kennedy graduated from Stanford and Harvard Law School, worked in non-profits serving the young and disadvantaged, and as an assistant district attorney. In the House, he has developed relationships across the country and across the aisle. His demeanor and seriousness of purpose led to his being tapped to give the Democratic response to President Trump’s 2018 State-of-the-Union speech. His future would seem limitless.
But is this the right time? He could, I suppose, be persuaded by Markey’s decision to drop out of the 1984 race for Paul Tsongas’ open Senate seat in 1984, remembering that it was 30 years before another opportune moment arose (when John Kerry left the Senate to become Secretary of State). A group of activists has formed a movement to draft JK3, and a privately funded poll reportedly found him somewhat favored to defeat Markey. (We don’t know what the actual numbers are.) But because he might, does that mean he should?
Markey has received high-profile endorsements, from NARAL Pro-Choice America to party heavies and a majority of his Massachusetts House colleagues. (Seth Moulton and Ayanna Presley have not endorsed him. Cong. Katherine Clark will defer taking sides until a later time.) Today, Markey released a video of Elizabeth Warren enthusiastically restating her support of him.
Markey seems unlikely to retire, stepping aside for Kennedy. He already has two other Democratic primary challengers, neither of whom would pose an existential threat. Kennedy, if he decided to run, would be the toughest opponent Markey has ever faced. Two good guys would be at each other’s throats, the old lion and the young alpha male. I really like both of them, who they are and what they stand for. The primary could cost well more than ten million dollars, money that could be better spent trying to win Senate seats in battleground states.
At this time, it appears the only things that separate them are age and style. And we’ll all have to decide if those factors are enough to throw the old warrior out of office. With both Warren and Markey in their ’70’s, it’s unlikely that Kennedy will have to wait as long as Markey did to take his Senate shot.