Massachusetts U.S. Senator Ed Markey and his Democratic primary challenger, U.S. Representative Joe Kennedy, sparred in a fiery televised debate Tuesday.
Kennedy pursued a familiar line of attack, accusing Markey of being mostly absent from Massachusetts and out-of-touch with the concerns of his constituents.
"I believe you deserve more out of your Senator," said Kennedy.
Markey highlighted his co-sponsorship of the Green New Deal and said it had inspired a movement of “millions” of young people to bring about change.
" I represent experience and change," said Markey.
The debate on WBZ TV and CSPAN featured sharp exchanges and tense moments. It underscored the apparent closeness of the contest as voters have already begun to cast ballots by mail and can vote early in-person starting next week. The candidates will debate one more time before the September 1st primary.
One of the more heated exchanges involved the case of DJ Henry, a young Black man from Massachusetts killed by police in New York 10 years ago. Kennedy echoed recent criticism from the Henry family that Markey had dismissed their pleas to help get justice.
"It's not my words that said you did nothing. It's Mr. Henry's words who said that you did nothing," Kennedy said. "You signed a letter that my office put together after months of trying to get you on that letter."
Markey said he had signed a letter to then U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in 2014, asking for a federal investigation into the killing.
"When Congressman Kennedy says I did nothing, he knows it's not true." Markey said.
Kennedy said Markey’s record on racial justice was suspect, pointing to his vote for a major crime bill in 1994 that civil rights activists say led to mass incarcerations of Black men, and Markey’s opposition to busing to desegregate the Boston Public Schools.
" I don't think racial justice is something you can cherry pick," said Kennedy.
Markey said his opposition to busing was “40 years ago.”
" The crime bill was supported by every member of the Massachusetts delegation," said Markey, who noted it created the Violence Against Women Act, and banned assault weapons.
Seemingly on the defensive for much of the hour-long debate, Markey challenged Kennedy over media reports that his father – former Congressman Joe Kennedy II – was donating money to a political action committee that Markey said is producing negative ads.
"Is your father funding that super PAC that is attacking me right now?" Markey said.
" No clue. No idea," responded Kennedy.
"I am sure your father is watching right now. Tell your father right now that you don't want money to go into a super PAC that runs negative ads," Markey said.
Kennedy said Markey could have agreed to ban political action committee spending in the race, but chose not to. He said Markey supporters have been posting vitriol on social media.
"Your campaign supporters have put out Tweets saying that Lee Harvey got the wrong Kennedy and not a word from your campaign. So, cut the complaining," said Kennedy.
Markey called the tweets unacceptable.
The contest is being closely watched in an election cycle that has already seen several Democratic members of Congress lose primaries.
Markey, 74, has served in Washington for decades. Kennedy could hardly be considered an insurgent outsider. The 39-year-old is a member of a storied political dynasty. He has represented the state’s 4th Congressional District since 2012.
There is also a Republican primary for the Senate seat. It pits Kevin O’Connor, an attorney, against Shiva Ayyadurai, an entrepreneur who ran as an independent against Democratic U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren in 2018.