Is America ready for another Kennedy?

Why We Wrote This

After six-plus years in the House, Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts is eyeing Ed Markey's Senate seat. The potential 2020 primary challenge would be the latest young, progressive politician to push for change and not 'wait their turn.'

Elise Amendola/AP
U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., leaves a news conference, Aug. 27, 2019, to enter a fire station in Newton, Massachusetts. Mr. Kennedy, a scion of one of America's most storied political families, is taking steps to challenge U.S. Sen. Edward Markey in the 2020 Democratic primary, setting the stage for what could be a bitter intra-party battle split along generational lines.

As a Massachusetts native and a big nerd about political dynasties, I can’t resist the news that Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III is thinking of challenging incumbent Sen. Edward Markey in next year’s Democratic primary.

Representative Kennedy has a political pedigree like no other: Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was his grandfather, and President John F. Kennedy was his great-uncle. Another great-uncle, Teddy Kennedy, was known as “the Lion of the Senate.” Young Joe also has the Kennedy look and political chops. Back when his dad, Joseph P. Kennedy II, was a member of Congress, a colleague met Joe III - then a boy - and told me he looked her in the eye and greeted her with a smile and a firm handshake.

Now, at the ripe age of 38, Mr. Kennedy already has six-plus years as a congressman under his belt, and “in this political moment,” is feeling a new sense of urgency, he wrote Monday on Facebook. 

“I hear the folks who say I should wait my turn, but with due respect - I'm not sure this is a moment for waiting,” Mr. Kennedy wrote.  

Senator Markey played by the old, unwritten rules and “waited his turn,” serving in the House 37 years before running in and winning a special election to fill Sen. John Kerry’s seat when he became secretary of State. But this is the Trump era, where old norms are falling left and right. Increasingly, young progressive outsiders are looking to knock out more moderate, establishment Democrats in primaries. But in the potential Kennedy-Markey matchup, it’s not about ideology or outsider versus insider - it’s about age, the future versus the past. And there may be a presidential gleam in Mr. Kennedy’s eye. 

So here’s a question: Are Americans tired of political dynasties? I wrote a cover story for the Monitor Weekly magazine on this in March 2015, when Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton were gearing up to run for president. Former Governor Bush, we now know, was a flop. Mrs. Clinton also missed the mark. 

If Mr. Kennedy does run for the Senate, will the Democratic voters of Massachusetts be swayed by the aura of Camelot? Or will they sense entitlement, and perhaps some disrespect for Mr. Markey’s years of service? In the latest Morning Consult poll, Mr. Markey ranks as one of the most popular senators in the country with home-state voters, at 53 percent job approval. Mr. Kennedy may well be taking a big risk if he takes the plunge. 

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