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Markey fends off Kennedy in Massachusetts Senate primary that divided Democrats

Sen. Ed Markey on Tuesday held off a primary challenge from Rep. Joe Kennedy III in a race that divided progressive and establishment Democrats.

Kennedy told supporters Tuesday night that he called Markey to congratulate him “and to pledge my support to him and his campaign in the months ahead.”

“The senator is a good man,” he added.

Speaking in supporters later, Markey said he had spoken with Kennedy “and I extended my respect and congratulations for a campaign that has been fierce at times but always fueled by a shared commitment to the people of this great commonwealth.”

With about 75 percent of the vote counted, Markey held an 8-point lead over his challenger.

The primary battle became increasingly nasty in its closing weeks, with Kennedy hammering Markey over decades-old votes on busing and the 1994 crime bill. Markey, meanwhile, took some swipes at Kennedy’s family, playing off President John F. Kennedy’s famous line “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

In a campaign video, Markey said, “With all due respect, it’s time to start asking what your country can do for you.”

Kennedy had tried to paint himself as more progressive on racial issues than Markey.

“I am a 39-year-old white man of tremendous privilege. My own work on racial justice is wholly incomplete. But this fight is in my blood,” he said in a speech last month.

From a distance, the race appeared to be similar to others around the country where longtime Democratic politicians were ousted in primaries by younger, more progressive challengers. But different dynamics were in play in the Markey-Kennedy fight.

Kennedy wasn’t considered more liberal than Markey, and he hails from the state’s most powerful political dynasty — his grandfather was Sen. Robert Kennedy, and JFK was his great-uncle. Kennedy’s run was endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., several other well-known Democrats and some key labor unions.

Kennedy addressed his family legacy in his concession speech, saying “To my family, the Kennedy family, whose name was invoked far more often than I anticipated in this race, to my mom, my dad, my twin brother, and the rest of a rowdy bunch of crazy cousins, you all are my heroes, you are my role models, you are my example of what public service should be and can be when it is done with courage and grit. Thank you for teaching me everything I know.”

Markey, 74, a longtime House member who was elected to the Senate in 2013, has a progressive record and is one of the co-sponsors of the Green New Deal. That earned him the endorsement of progressive star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and he’s also been backed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

And Markey was supported by Justice Democrats, the group that helped propel Ocasio-Cortez to a stunning primary victory in 2018 and has helped put together a string of other primary victories this year.

In another closely watched race Tuesday night, Rep. Richard Neal, the head of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, fended off a primary challenge from Alex Morse, the mayor of Holyoke.

With about 90 percent of the vote counted, Neal led his challenger by 18 points.

Neal, 71, found himself being challenged by Morse, 31, and the Justice Democrats, who painted the incumbent as an obstacle to their agenda — including “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal.

Morse hammered Neal for not being aggressive enough in his bid to get President Donald Trump’s tax returns from the Treasury Department, something the Ways and Means chair is technically empowered to do.

“The chairman has a lot of power. But he dropped the ball. He didn’t use that power to hold this president accountable,” Morse told The Washington Post.

In a debate, Neal insisted that he’s “delivered” for his constituents.

Neal was backed by Pelosi, who said that “I know what he has done” in office and that “it would be a tremendous loss to the district to lose the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.”

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