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Kennedy announces bid for Senate, vowing to fight Trump

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 9/21/2019 Victoria McGrane
Joseph P. Kennedy III et al. standing in front of a crowd: Joseph Kennedy spoke at the East Boston Social Center on Saturday morning. © John Tlumacki/Globe Staff Joseph Kennedy spoke at the East Boston Social Center on Saturday morning.

Joseph P. Kennedy III, descendant of Democratic royalty and four-term congressman, officially launched his primary challenge to Senator Edward J. Markey Saturday morning, framing his bid as his contribution to “do more” to fight what he described as an existential challenge to American democracy that President Trump has laid bare.

“I’m running for the United States Senate because our country is at a moment of truth. Donald Trump has forced a long overdue reckoning in America, and how we respond will say everything about who we are,” Kennedy, 38, said to a diverse crowd during a low-key launch event in the gymnasium at East Boston Social Centers.

“But our focus must be bigger and bolder than simply stopping Donald Trump. We have to take on the broken system that gave rise to him in the first place — the outdated structures and old rules, the everyday oppressions and injustices that hold our people back and have exploited American families for generations.

“This isn’t a moment for waiting, for sitting on the sidelines, or for playing by old rules that don’t work anymore. This is the fight for our lives, the fight of my generation. I’m all in,” he said in rhetoric that echoes that of Senator Elizabeth Warren on the presidential campaign trail.

Kennedy’s remarks did not mention the incumbent, Markey, but the implicit message was that the 73-year-old Malden Democrat has had decades to fix a broken system that gave rise to Trump — and has failed.

“My commitment to you,” if I win this race, Kennedy said, “is that I will show up.”

His short speech also invoked his famous family name, which is sure to boost his candidacy. He recounted the history of how his ancestors immigrated from Ireland to the United States, landed in East Boston, faced hardship, and yet within generations had one of their own in the White House.

Underscoring that message were family members, who joined him at the launch, including his father, former congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, and Vicki Kennedy, widow of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

The primary contest is expected to be divisive, and Markey wasted no time launching a strategic move. Shortly before Kennedy’s event was set to start, Markey released a video challenging Kennedy and the other two candidates in the race to a climate-only debate in early November.

The move — coming the day after climate strike protests around the world — is clearly designed to highlight Markey’s strong record on climate change and the environment, which has earned him the endorsement of liberal icon Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a congresswoman from New York, and many environmental groups.

The test for Kennedy over the next few days, analysts say, will be to articulate a compelling reason for taking on Markey, who is a respected incumbent with a strong progressive record.

Typically, a primary challenger frames his candidacy around a major ideological or policy point argument that the incumbent is out of step with the party, said David A. Hopkins, a political scientist at Boston College. “Whereas this challenge seems to be much more about, ‘You have the seat and I want it.’ Which is always obviously true. There isn’t the same kind of ostensible policy critique that’s the public justification for a primary challenge that you usually see.”

From his formal announcement, Kennedy will head to seven more stops Saturday, covering a big portion of the state, starting with Villa Victoria affordable housing community in Boston and ending with a traditional hand-shake session with diners at Hope & Olives restaurant in Greenfield.

In between, he’ll visit a homeless shelter in Salem, attend a Guatemalan flag-raising ceremony, stop by a clambake hosted by state Representative David Nangle of Lowell, and participate in a closed-press discussion with the Franklin County Opioid Task Force, among other events.

On Sunday, Kennedy will visit Pittsfield, Springfield, Worcester, New Bedford, and Attleboro.

At many stops, Kennedy will be accompanied by an elected official, suggesting that Kennedy will have his own slate of endorsements from party figures around the state to go against the hefty list Markey has assembled. Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, for instance, will be on hand for his event in that city. She coauthored an op-ed in Commonwealth Magazine Friday throwing her support behind Kennedy once he was officially in the race.

“As mayors, our highest priority when it comes to partners in Congress is a leader who shows up. And Joe shows up for Massachusetts,” Driscoll wrote with Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller.

Buoyed by his famous surname and relative youth, Kennedy, 38, enters the race as the front-runner, according to recent polls. A Boston Globe and Suffolk University poll released earlier this month found Kennedy leading Markey by 14 points in a head-t0-head contest. He would best Markey in every age group and across wide geographic swaths of the state.

But Kennedy’s ambitious move has sparked deep displeasure and anxiety among many Democratic officials, who are distressed about picking sides between two well-liked Democrats and concerned that the expensive, potentially brutal fight, is a distraction in a crucial election cycle.

And Markey’s support among key party activists appears strong. On Friday, Environment Massachusetts — one of several major environmental groups to endorse Markey — announced it would put together a $5 million campaign to promote Markey and support his reelection campaign.

“We are lucky to have one of the nation’s strongest climate champions, Ed Markey, representing Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate. Voters need to know what Ed Markey has done throughout decades of public service to advance renewable energy, clean water, clean air, and the protection of our public lands. We intend to tell his story,” said Ben Hellerstein, the group’s Massachusetts state director.

Two other Democrats have launched campaigns for the nomination for Senate in 2020 — labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan and businessman Steve Pemberton.

Victoria McGrane can be reached at victoria.mcgrane@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.

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