Congressional Corner With Tim Vercellotti | WAMC

Congressional Corner With Tim Vercellotti

Jun 18, 2020

One of the top Senate races in the Northeast is an intramural affair.

In today’s Congressional Corner, Tim Vercellotti of the Western New England University poll and professor of political science, continues his conversation with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

Alan Chartock: I guess the first question I want to ask you, Mr. Tim Vercellotti, the director of the Western New England University poll, and professor of political science, about the Markey Kennedy Senate race, everybody's looking at it. We've had both candidates on our air on this very program a number of times. What do you make of that race?

Tim Vercellotti: It's a fascinating race. And it's an unusual race in this cycle, where the Democratic Party is focusing so much energy on flipping the United States Senate. Here we've got a highly competitive Democratic primary in Massachusetts. There have been three television debates so far, two fairly recently in western Massachusetts, and then in Providence, which was reaching the southeastern Massachusetts markets, but also was broadcast in the Berkshires in Western Mass as well. And we saw the themes that the two candidates Dates are going to make really the centerpiece of their campaigns from now until the primary on September 1 for Ed Markey. He is running on his experience his achievements in terms of environment in terms of telecom regulation, and of course the centerpiece has proposed green New Deal. Kennedy is running a generational change campaign. Kennedy's 39 mark is 73. Martin has been in office in public office of one kind or another since the 1970s. Kennedy is arguing that Marquis should have more to show for that time in office and he's also spending some time questioning marquees progressive credentials in the most recent debate. He criticized Markey for supporting a crime bill that the Congress passed and President Clinton signed in 1994 it can take Very strict sentencing guidelines and is one of the factors that people cite when they talk about high incarceration rates, especially for African American men. Markey responded that of course, those provisions of the bill need to be revisited. But the bill also had an assault weapons ban and hence, that was his vote for it. Marquis came right back to question Kennedy's progressive credentials by criticizing Kennedy for the first job that he took when he got out of law school, which was with a Republican, very conservative prosecutor on the cape and said you could have had a job anywhere given your credentials given your background. Why go with this guy? So it as it proceeds, it's really going to be a fight over who is the real progressive in the race?

Well, okay, so Mr. Pollster Mr. Political Scientist I respect so much, who's gonna win?

Well, I know better than to answer that, but I can talk about the most recent polling, and there hasn't been much in the last five weeks. The most recent polls were in early May and they had very disparate results. Emerson College does an unusual approach of interactive voice response polling, which limits them to landlines, but then they supplement that with an online sample among likely voters in the Democratic primary. They had Kennedy up by 16 points. At the same time UMass Lowell, which also did an online survey using a YouGov sample, they had it down to a two point race. Their sample, though had a margin of error of plus or minus over 7 points, I think was 7.8%. So it's very hard to tell what's going on from the most recent poll.

But based on the recent polling, you would say, that I think you would say that Kennedy has a small lead, yes?

You could use polling to make that statement. You could also use campaign fundraising to make that statement. Kennedy has raised, certainly has raised more than Markey has. This is going to be a turnout event. The primary September 1, it's still technically summer time. If schools reopen, they won't have reopened yet. Primaries tend to have low turnout. Getting people out will determine who is going to be the winner here. It's interesting to look at campaign tools like online social media. Kennedy's campaign Facebook page, he's got 1.1 million followers. Markey’s Facebook campaign page 57,000 followers, so one would surmise that Kennedy's got the edge there. Now followers, are they all Massachusetts voters? Probably not in the case of each of these candidates in terms of their following, but you absolutely have to give the edge to Kennedy in terms of social media, firing up those folks and getting them out. That's going to be the key to this race.

He is a Kennedy after all. There is John F. Kennedy, who is a saint in Massachusetts, Edward Kennedy. He's Robert Kennedy's grandson. Is the Kennedy appellation help or hurt you.

In a Democratic primary race it certainly helps no question about it. But there is a bit of backlash in this race from voters, long time progressive activists in the state who see the resources that are going into this race that could be going into flippable Senate seat races around the country and there is some sense of had Kennedy bided his time, it would have been better for the party than to pour all these resources into what amounts to a family feud, an internal fight over generations of Democrats here. So there is some of that backlash. Markey also has very strong support from environmental groups, from local mayors out here in western Massachusetts, although this is only about a sixth of the electorate out here, and teachers. The teachers’ unions are supporting Markey as well. It's going to be close. It's going to be a tight race. Maybe the Kennedy name tips the balance, hard to tell, no prediction for me though.

As we speak today, an interesting thing has happened. Bernie Sanders and AOC, the famous AOC have gotten together and basically endorsed somebody in Kentucky primary for the Senate seat of Mitch McConnell. And that's very interesting to me, because McConnell is despised by Democrats. And yet these two, to the left of the party, go ahead and throw a little bit of a Molotov cocktail into the race. What do you make of it?

It's interesting. I've been picking up on that on social media the last day or two as well. So the marquee candidate for the Democrats is Amy McGrath. She ran for a house seat in the 2018 cycle and just barely lost. She is a former fighter pilot, has no problem raising money, but is closer to the middle of the spectrum in terms of her politics. The progressive candidate that has been getting a close look from Senator Sanders and Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez is Charles Booker. And the concern among some Democrats is that well, he might win the primary he would face a very difficult time winning statewide in Kentucky. Kentucky does have a habit of electing Democrats statewide. The current governor Andy Beshear is a Democrat, but they tend to be moderate to conservative Democrats. Electing, nominating a progressive might be very satisfying to the left wing of the Democratic Party. But it's going to be a very heavy lift to push that candidate to victory in November, if indeed that unfolds.

Are there enough of them? Are there enough progressive Democrats in Kentucky? Or is it likely that their voices will be as moderate as the rest of the state?

I think it would be difficult. I would say the central tendency for the Democratic Party statewide would be towards a moderate candidate. And although it would be exciting to have a more progressive nominee for the Democrats there, it could be a Pyrrhic victory win the battle loses the war in this regard, unless there is a massive wave election in November. And who knows, given the many dramatic events that have already occurred in this election cycle, all bets are off. There's a big wave. But if voters are behaving the way they typically do, a left leaning Democrat’s going to have a very hard time to win statewide in Kentucky.

Tim Vercellotti is director of the Western New England University poll, professor of political science, and a guy who knows more about this stuff than anybody I know. Thank you, Tim. I appreciate your being with us. When we come back next time, let’s be talking some more.

Sure.