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Kennedy, Markey press for votes on eve of mail-in balloting

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1990 and has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Kennedy, Markey press for votes on eve of mail-in balloting
U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy talks to reporters on Bowdoin St. in Dorchester. Banner photo

With just days to go before mail-in ballots begin arriving in voters’ mail slots, U.S. Senator Ed Markey and U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III crisscrossed the city appealing for votes Sunday.

“’Get out the vote’ used to be one day a year,” said Markey supporter Annie Rousseau, a co-chair of the group JP Progressives. “This year, it’s going to be my favorite month of the year.”

Rousseau spoke during a rally for Markey at the Boathouse by Jamaica Pond. The rally was held at the same time Kennedy made appearances in Dorchester and Roxbury, visiting businesses and senior centers.

The two candidates are locked in what appears to be a tight race for the Senate seat Markey has held since 2013. While a poll in September of last year showed Kennedy leading by 14 points, a July 30 poll of 500 likely voters showed Markey ahead by 4 points, with a 4.5-point margin of error.

Speaking to the Banner, Kennedy downplayed the significance of the latest poll.

“I’m not going to judge the strength of this campaign off of any poll I’ve seen,” he said. “Every poll I’ve seen has had us ahead, but any pollster who looks at this race will tell you they don’t know who’s going to show up.”

Secretary of State William Galvin’s office mailed out the applications to voters across the state and is expected to send actual ballots to voters this week.

The expected proliferation of mail-in ballots — a new feature in Massachusetts electoral politics — has forced candidates to rethink strategy, airing television advertisements in late July that would ordinarily run at the end of August or in early September. The combination of warm weather, which has residents in outdoor settings, and a partial relaxation of restrictions on public gatherings has opened a window for retail campaigning over the next four weeks before the Sept. 1 primary.

“Everything has forced us to change our campaign strategy,” Kennedy said. “The fact that there’s going to be ballots being cast for a month I think enables me to run a campaign, for at least a small portion, that we’ve wanted to run for this entire year but haven’t been able to.”

With so many new variables — the pandemic, mail-in votes, a Sept. 1 primary that comes before Labor Day — the outcome of the race could confound the most confident pundits.

Add to those factors another strange dynamic: the 39-year-old challenger is appealing to older voters while the 74-year-old incumbent is attracting younger voters, according to the same poll that last week put Markey in the lead. That may explain Kennedy’s outreach to older voters Sunday.

“Are you related to the president?” called out a man sitting in front of the Martin Luther King Towers elderly development in Roxbury.

“President Kennedy was my grandfather’s brother,” the congressman explained.

While the elders at Martin Luther King Towers said they planned to vote, tenant task force President Leon McCray said he wasn’t sure the polling place in his building would open, owing to the crowding that normally takes place in the first-floor community room where ballots are cast, and the lack of proper ventilation. McCray said he has not yet received an application for a mail-in ballot.

On Saturday and Sunday, Kennedy’s appearances in Roxbury, Dorchester and Jamaica Plain provided a window into his voter outreach. On Saturday, he met with supporters at Merengue Restaurant in Roxbury to rally supporters preparing the campaign’s get-out-the-vote efforts. On Sunday, he toured businesses in the Bowdoin Street area in addition to making stops in Roxbury and Jamaica Plain.

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey at Jamaica Pond.
Banner photo

At Jamaica Pond, Markey rallied more than 100 supporters — all masked and spaced apart — with speeches from JP Progressive supporters and state Rep. Nika Elugardo.

JP Progressives co-chair Rousseau told the Banner she supports Markey because of his longstanding support for progressive causes.

“Ed has been a leader,” she said. “You don’t fire somebody when they’re doing the job we asked him to: to be a bold, progressive leader. He’s done that consistently.”

While there is little in the way of policy that separates Kennedy and Markey, the challenger has consistently sounded the message that it’s time for new blood in the Senate. That line hasn’t always been convincing. Pundits have consistently asked the question: Why is Kennedy in the race?

Kennedy has sounded the same three themes throughout his campaign: that Massachusetts needs new leadership, Markey hasn’t done enough to help get other Democrats elected to Congress and the Senate, and Markey doesn’t spend enough time in the state. That allegation gained some traction when a Boston Globe article published last week revealed that Markey has spent less time in the Massachusetts than others in the state’s congressional delegation.

While Markey and his supporters spoke Sunday at Jamaica Pond, the driver of a sound truck bearing the message, “Ed Markey, release your travel records” repeatedly buzzed the gathering, drowning out the public address system.

But the more ideologically-driven Jamaica Plain crowd seemed less interested in where Markey rests his head than his record in Congress.

“I like the policies he’s been pushing for 30 years,” Rep. Elugardo told the Banner before introducing the Senator to the gathering. “I like the way he’s able to fight for justice independent of what the crowd is doing. We need somebody who leads from the floor of the Senate and won’t take no for an answer.”

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