Arun Venugopal: I'm Arun Venugopal in for Tanzina Vega, and this is The Takeaway. Now a headline that's never been read before last night. Kennedy loses congressional primary race in Massachusetts. That's right. For the first time in 27 elections dating back over 50 years, a Kennedy has lost a primary race. It wasn't even that close. Joe Kennedy III fell to progressive incumbent Ed Markey last night after a contentious race in the commonwealth. Markey was a co-signer of the Green New Deal, and was endorsed by AOC and others on the left, while Kennedy infamously received Speaker Pelosi’s endorsement, despite her party's policy on not endorsing primary challenges to incumbents. Also long-time incumbent Richard Neal, chair of the Ways and Means Committee bested 31-year-old Mayor of Holyoke Massachusetts, Alex Morse, who dealt with accusations of inappropriate sexual conduct with students when he was a professor. The accusations did unravel, with Morse accusing Neal of coordinating the smear against him. Neal has denied involvement. Joining me now is Adam Reilly, a political reporter for The Takeaway's partner station, GBH in Boston. Hi, Adam.
Adam Reilly: Hey Arun.
Arun: Let's start with the Senate primary race. It became a pretty contentious race towards the end. What helped Markey get over the top in a pretty big way here?
Adam: The first thing that I think I'd point to is his ability to develop really passionate base of young voters. In some cases, people who were too young to vote, but were still really enthusiastic about his campaign. He was clearly the favorite of younger voters in this race, which might seem counterintuitive at first because he's an older guy. Kennedy is, relatively speaking, young, but Markey I think had the advantage of his co-authorship of the Green New Deal. As we know, young voters are especially concerned about climate change. He also had a knack for giving young activists roles to play in his campaign. He made them part of his campaign infrastructure in a way that a lot of people set up and took notice of. It's not necessarily that frequent for young people to be given key roles. I think that the young people who worked for and with Markey felt like they had them. The other thing I'd add, and this is squishy, but I think it's a real factor. He developed a political aesthetic over the course of his campaign that young voters seem to really enjoy, and enjoy working with. I'm thinking of, for example, the ad that he rolled out in the campaigns closing weeks in which he famously inverted JFK's line about not asking what your country can do for you, and closed by saying--
Ed Markey (campaign ad): “With all due respect, it's time to start asking what your country can do for you.”
Adam: The ad was shot in the style of what I would describe, and I'm no cinematographer. I would describe it as '70s cop show, CHiPs. [crosstalk]
Arun: Starsky & Hutch?
Adam: Yes, a little bit. For example, when you see that Elizabeth Warren endorsed Ed Markey, her face comes up and the shot freezes as very '70s font identifies her underneath. I don't want to say that young voters are driven by stylistic concerns rather than substantive ones. That's not what I'm saying, but the Markey campaign did do a really good job, creating a sensibility that I think people found both inspiring and also fun.
Arun: Let's get real here regarding the national optics of this race. Seriously, in the year 2020, does anyone under, say the age of, I don't know, 35 or 40, actually care about whether Kennedy did or did not win a primary?
Adam: That is a great question. What I'm going to try to artfully dodge as I respond to you. I know there's already brewing pushback here in Massachusetts from people who seem to dislike the idea that this campaign was a referendum on the Kennedy name. I think that they've got a point in that it's also a referendum on Joe Kennedy as a candidate. He, I would say, had a hard time articulating a clear convincing rationale for his candidacy. He said that Markey didn't show up to meet with his constituents as much as he should have, that he wasn't present enough in Massachusetts. He also accused him of not being sufficiently attentive to issues involving race and racial injustice. There were times when those critiques seemed effective, but the problem for Kennedy I think is that he was making a fierce urgency of now argument saying we need a new generation of people who aren't Washington insiders, while he was also coming from a family that is embodies American political insider knows this race.
Arun: Kennedy still receives strong support from the Black community in Boston. Why do you think the Kennedy name still holds weight for voters of color in the state?
Adam: I think there's no question. The Kennedy family, in particular, JFK and RFK, are seen among a certain slice or certain slices of the electorate in Massachusetts as among other things, civil rights heroes. The polls did show that among non-white voters, that was one of Kennedy's stronger constituencies. I do attribute that to his family legacy, the way people think about the work RFK and JFK did. Also, the fact that I think the most effective critique Kennedy made over the course of this campaign was that Markey isn't attuned enough to issues of race and racial injustice. He put it front and center, and then when you have the memory of the family and the background, I think that's an effective combination. He was trying to get them to come out in as great numbers as he could. It just wasn't enough in the end.
Arun: In another race, we saw Richard Neal hold on to beat Alex Morse in the 1st District. How did this play out in terms of establishment versus non-establishment Democrats?
Adam: I think in that race, you had much more of a clear anti-establishment line of attack coming from the challenger. Kennedy struggled to make that. I'm not sure he wanted to make that because he is part of the Massachusetts Democratic establishment as is Ed Markey. It was tougher to make that differentiation. Alex Morse was elected mayor of Holyoke, a struggling city in the western part of the state, when he was, I believe, just 22 years old. He was going after Richard Neal on all the points that we're used to hearing progressive challengers from the left go after perceived moderate Democratic incumbent [crosstalk] for example. Yeah, go ahead.
Arun: Just a little background, Richard Neal, incumbent chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, like you're saying, really an established Democrat.
Adam: Yes, the consummate establishment Democrat. He's not signing onto policy proposals like the Green New Deal's Ed Markey, for example. Morse tried to make the case that Neal has not leveraged his position in a way that benefits Western Massachusetts. That was something I think Neal was able to push back on pretty effectively. He also tried to cast Neal as too beholden to corporate PAC money, too intent on maintaining the system as it currently is, rather than trying to fundamentally change the system. That critique, I think, probably had more half. It was something that Morse was able to press to greater gain. As we saw from the results, it wasn't even that close. I was a little surprised. I had heard from the Neal campaign for a couple of weeks before Election Day, that they were pretty confident, and that while they thought this was going to be a strong challenge, one of the stronger ones Neal has faced, they didn't think that they were going to be in danger of actually losing. I didn't know if that was bravado or clear-eyed assessment of the race. It turns out it was the latter.
Arun: Adam Reilly is a political reporter for The Takeaway's partner station, GBH in Boston. Adam, thanks so much.
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