Son of a milkman beats a Kennedy in Massachusetts Senate race

Emily Tamkin writes:

Representative Joe Kennedy III has conceded to Senator Edward Markey, ending a heated primary race for Markey's Massachusetts Senate seat.

Though incumbents normally win their elections, there was something more at play in the Bay State. Kennedy started the election polling ahead of Markey by double digits. And there was a reason he was expected to win: no Kennedy had ever lost an election in the state of Massachusetts, the state that birthed the careers of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Ted Kennedy. It looked like he would oust Markey, ending his over four decades in Congress.


But though Markey was not known as a progressive per se for the majority of his career, he was the Senate co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, progressive superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's House bill, and a supporter of Medicare for All. He hit Kennedy on the very thing that made him popular: his family name. "Tell your father right now that you don't want money to go into a super PAC that runs negative ads," he said in one debate. Perhaps most famously, he concluded one ad, which stressed his roots as the son of a milkman, flipping JFK's most famous line on its head. "It's time," the senator said, "to start asking what your country can do for you."


Kennedy, meanwhile, struggled to articulate to voters why, exactly, he wanted the job. To say "generational change" wasn't enough when younger voters themselves were some of the strongest supporters of Markey, and it is harder to argue that one's opponent is out of touch with the common man and woman when one is literally a Kennedy. A Kennedy ad toward the end of the campaign stressed the family name. "He reminds me of Bobby and Jack and Teddy," Ethel Kennedy, the candidate's 92 year old grandmother, told the camera. But, even in Massachusetts, that isn't enough anymore. 


It is unlikely the United States has seen the end of political ambitions from the Kennedy family or even Joe Kennedy III individually. He may be leaving Congress in January, but he became a congressman in his early thirties and is still only 39. That he ran for the Senate at all suggests that he has dreams of bigger, more powerful things. But for at least one election, Massachusetts voters chose the son of a dairyman over a dynasty. 

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