By Rev. Irene Monroe
Presidential hopefuls scramble for black votes
But to nab the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Ed Markey in this November’s election, Kennedy must distinguish himself as more than just a younger version with the same policy views.
The two Democratic senatorial candidates debated for the first time Tuesday evening of February 18 during an event hosted by WGBH News at its Brighton location. But any ideological differences between the two men did not emerge in the conversation.
The primary race has generated both excitement and frustration. While some are excited by the prospect of Kennedy advancing to the Senate, for Democrats hoping to take the U.S. Senate in November, the infighting over a “safe seat” from a political calculus perspective is a waste of time in a blue state like Massachusetts. Also, it is perceived to be wasteful when the allocation of money and resources are limited and needed to unseat Republicans.
Nonetheless, I wanted to hear why Kennedy, who champions the same issues as Markey, would be a better senator than the incumbent.
“The issue is that at this moment … this is not about finding the right bill and voting the right way,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy, 39, never stated the ideological discrepancies between himself and Markey, 73, explicitly. However, the issue that was front and center yet not candidly discussed was their age and generational differences, which fueled Kennedy’s run.
“To meet this moment requires more than just defeating [Trump],” CBS reported Kennedy stated at his campaign kickoff last September. “It requires taking on clearly a broken system, the calcified structures that allowed him to win in the first place.”
Kennedy, I suspect, is trying to arrive in the Senate on the same wave of enthusiasm and excitement as the Massachusett’s 7th Congressional District and communities beyond had for then-Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, which landed her a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Like the Kennedy and Markey race, there were age and generational differences between Pressley and incumbent Rep. Michael Capuano, signaling unease in the Democratic party. However, Pressley unseating the 10-term Capuano isn’t the same as Kennedy trying to unseat Markey.
When Pressley stated at a 2018 canvassing event in Cambridge, Mass., that I attended, “We might vote the same way, but we will lead differently,” Pressley was referring to representation — an issue that neither Kennedy nor Markey has had to struggle with for themselves or their districts. Capuano, who’s white and male, witnessed during his tenure the changing demographics of his constituents. As an African-American woman, Pressley was better suited to represent and lead what had become a majority-minority district.
Demographic diversity, along with a younger and more progressive generation of Democratic politicians, is essential for the life of the party. And in a race between similarly positioned candidates, race, gender and geographic diversity matter. Yes, so, too, age! But Kennedy must have more than that.
The congressman launched his race for Markey’s seat as “the fight of his generation.” In January, Kennedy held 11 town hall meetings and made nearly 300 campaign stops across the Commonwealth since announcing his bid, hoping to excite younger voters to the polls. However, if 78-year-old Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ strong poll numbers in the race for the White House are any indication about voters under 40, then does a candidate’s age really matter?
Since Kennedy is Markey’s challenger, he must distinguish himself from Markey’s policy positions by demonstrating why age matters. Kennedy must show why his age would make a difference in the way that Pressley articulated why her leadership style would make a difference. Otherwise, this first debate, for me, didn’t demonstrate a compelling reason to replace Markey for Kennedy — in other words, to swap an older straight white male for a younger one.
However, there will be two more debates before the Sept. 1 primary. Perhaps those upcoming debates will parse out what I presently see to be two indistinguishable opponents. Moreover, I feel, unlike where we are today in our democracy, when it comes to the race for an already-blue Senate seat, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”