Sen. Ed Markey defeated Rep. Joe Kennedy III in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts on Tuesday, ending a decades-old winning streak for the Kennedy family in the state and marking yet another progressive victory in a year that has seen several moderate Democratic incumbents knocked off by left-wing insurgents.
The race diverged from the nationwide trend of younger progressives challenging more moderate incumbents in safely Democratic seats, with the Medicare-for-all, Green New Deal supporting Markey winning the backing of progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), in addition to a number of his House and Senate colleagues.
But Kennedy was not without institutional support, with endorsements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
The 39-year-old grandson of Robert F. Kennedy started off strong, mostly leading in the polls up until May, but Markey was boosted by strong backing from younger voters, who helped rebrand the 74-year-old senator into an internet meme and something of a progressive icon.
Coming into election day, Markey was the heavy favorite, having led in a slew of public polls in the weeks leading up to the race in no small part because of criticism that Kennedy lacked a cogent reason for his run beyond being the scion of a powerful family.
Markey was also boosted by a powerful ad in which he pitched himself as an effective progressive lawmaker and flipped President John F. Kennedy’s iconic inaugural phrase on its head, telling voters, “it’s time to start asking what your country can do for you.”
The loss for Kennedy marks a historic moment for a family that has often loomed larger than life in liberal politics for much of the last half century; President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Ted Kennedy, Rep. Joe Kennedy II and Rep. Joe Kennedy III have collectively won 26 Democratic primaries in Massachusetts with zero losses, according to NBC’s Steve Kornacki.
“There are Markey clubs at every major college, Markey memes splattered across social media and phone banks around the country organized by the Sunrise Movement, the youth climate-change activists who coined the Green New Deal shortly before Markey endorsed it,” the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel reported.
Markey was not the only incumbent on track to emerge victorious Tuesday night; further down the ballot, Reps. Richard Neal and Stephen Lynch appeared poised fended off younger progressive primary challengers. The Massachusetts contest marks the end of a primary year with a historic number of toppled incumbents; in all, 8 incumbents lost their seats, with scandal-ridden Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa), Steve Watkins (R-Kans.) and Ross Spano (R-Fla.) losing to less tarred challengers, Reps. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) and Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) sustaining losses from more right-wing insurgents, and Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) being replaced by younger, more progressive alternatives.