Populism may be having a moment, but Americans still love their political dynasties, at least when they’re playing for the same team. And so, while the rest of the Democratic Party is focusing on finding new blood, Rep. Joe Kennedy III is betting that Massachusetts voters won’t mind some blue blood too. “I hear the folks who say I should wait my turn,” the 38-year-old congressman wrote in a Facebook post Monday, announcing his interest in challenging incumbent Democrat Ed Markey for a Senate seat previously held by Kennedy’s great-uncles, JFK and Teddy. (His grandfather, Robert F. Kennedy, served as senator of New York.) “[B]ut with due respect—I’m not sure this is a moment for waiting.”
Qué sorpresa. Kennedy, whose family remains beloved throughout Massachusetts, has been considered a rising star within the Democratic Party for years, and was tapped by party leadership to deliver the response to Trump’s 2018 State of the Union address. There, he presented his bona fidesto the country: a progressive stalwart from a family dedicated to public service, who was for living wages and paid leave. Oh, and he can also speak fluent Spanish. (The media’s immediate response, naturally, was to focus on his over-chapsticked lips.)
Kennedy suggested those themes would carry into a potential campaign against Markey, who is nearing the end of his career at 73 years old but remains one of the nation’s most popular senators according to Morning Consult. “Our system has been letting down a lot of people for a long time, and we can’t fix it if we don’t challenge it. I’ve got some ideas on how to do that. And I don’t think our democratic process promises anyone a turn.”
To Massachusetts insiders, Kennedy’s announcement didn’t come from nowhere. Earlier this month, Politico reported that local politicians and operatives had caught word of a telephone poll asking whether voters would prefer Kennedy over Markey, followed by the creation of a grassroots group called “Jump in, Joe!,” founded by members of Kennedy’s Boston Pride Parade Committee.
Markey is taking the potential challenge seriously, increasing his digital spending and touting endorsements from the Massachusetts congressional delegation and liberal activist groups. But he’s also nearing retirement age, or so Kennedy might be hoping, though superannuation hasn’t stopped colleagues like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders from seeking higher office. Of course, Markey would have to face the overwhelming but real power of Kennedy nostalgia too. “If Joe Kennedy got into the Senate race, he would immediately become the front-runner,” Mary Anne Marsh, a political strategist at Dewey Square Group in Boston, told Politico. “It would be the toughest race Ed Markey has ever faced.”