Recent developments in the Markey Kennedy race seem to indicate that maybe the race really doesn’t matter that much. I don’t mean the result, which is clearly consequential; but more, the campaign leading up to Election Day. As political scientists like to say, this race is structural. Given that you have an incumbent with a 40+ year record (even if only seven years in the Senate itself), it’s not Ed Markey‘s campaign per se that’s gained traction, it is his policy vision for the future made credible by his long record; a vision which he elucidated before he even knew that he had a primary challenger.
“What Markey hadn’t done in the past was flex his muscles, flex his policy muscles.” said Suffolk University pollster David Paleologos. “Now he’s doing that and I think Kennedy is realizing policy runs deep in Massachusetts. Personality and persona are important too, but in Massachusetts policy runs very deep.”
Yes, people do care what you do.
So the mix of latest news is really telling: Joe Kennedy‘s father taps into a kitty that he’s been keeping since the 1990s, to help run super PAC ads for JKIII. As I’m quoted in the Globe saying here, this would not be necessary if Joe Kennedy III — actually, we can now say The Kennedys — did not see the race slipping away from him. (Markey‘s refusal to do a real People’s Pledge was indeed counterproductive and unprincipled; and on balance, it’s probably not helping him now.)
And now we know the source of concern: This UMass/WCVB poll shows Markey with a stunning 15-point lead. With so many undecideds, and with so few polls having been taken, it’s good to take this result with a big grain of salt. But it certainly seems as if this campaign qua campaign — money, ads, debates, allegations and daily rat-a-tat-tat — hasn’t really made that much of a difference.
We don’t need to pretend Ed is flawless. I should not neglect to mention the DJ Henry incident, which was/is a terrible look for Ed. I’m glad he’s apologized, and I hope — actually, I insist — that he follows up in the way that he should have done from day one. But we have enough of an accounting to take the measure of his career and character, with the credits and debits. Ed Markey is now leveraging not family money and a name, but loyalties that he’s been developing for decades through good work, constituencies that may not have gotten attention in the past, or who weren’t even born at the time. The Green New Deal netted him an army of young enthusiasts, who are now making many thousands of phone calls for him and seemingly dominating the COVID-19 political landscape.
So maybe the super PACs, dad’s money and “tellyafatha”, the Quabbin reservoir gaffe, ice cream and Air Jordans, travel records, Broadway fundraisers that didn’t happen — maybe none of that is determinative.
Maybe the real campaign is the friends Ed made along the way.