BOSTON (CBS) - This time, Ed Markey showed up ready to rumble.
Within minutes of the start of the WPRI-TV debate between the incumbent senator and his primary challenger, Rep. Joe Kennedy, Markey was on the attack with an intensity lacking in last week's Western Massachusetts debate.
"I've worked across the aisle to get big things done," he said. "The congressman has been in office for eight years at this point and we are still waiting for a major piece of legislation to be passed."
Markey slammed Kennedy for going to work out of law school in the office of conservative Republican Cape and Islands DA Michael O'Keefe, and cast him as a centrist wolf in lefty sheep's clothing: "Congressman Kennedy had a chance to sign onto Medicare for All when it was introduced. I stood with Bernie Sanders. It took Congressman Kennedy two years to sign on. That's not progressive leadership. Congressman Kennedy is a progressive in name only."
In response, Kennedy continued to press his core campaign theme – that if you're tired of a "status quo" that's "failing," only one of the primary candidates is a true change agent, and it isn't Markey. "This is our chance to build something better," Kennedy said in his closing statement. "We will not deliver on that change with the same individuals, the same mindset and the same policies."
Three debates into a race that, given the virus-related lack of other campaign opportunities, seems unlikely to be much affected by anything other than the televised debates, the battle lines are familiar. If you've voted for Markey in his 19 House campaigns or his two Senate races, and have been satisfied by his performance in office, there is little apparent reason to retire him for a newer model who espouses essentially the same agenda. If you don't know Markey or simply want to shuffle the deck in DC, Kennedy makes an attractive option.
Neither man is going to turn the other into Donald Trump Jr. Beyond a few shaky moments for each, neither man has had a disastrous debate moment.
So what will decide this race? Kennedy has a clear money edge, and is already up on the air with decent if unmemorable ads. But Markey has enough dough to get on TV down the stretch. Markey has more of the local political and activist establishment behind him; Kennedy has solid labor union backing and a somewhat familiar last name.
More than any race in recent memory, this one may come down to the luck of the draw. What kind of Democratic and independent voters are likelier to remember to mail in their ballots or brave the virus by voting in person? And what will their mood be on or before September 1?
If they're hungry for change and sick of baby boomer leadership, Kennedy should win. If they're anxious about what the coming years may bring and value the undeniable experience Markey brings to the job, his re-nomination could be the comfort food they crave.
Only one thing is for sure – after three TV debates where they've repeatedly tilled the same soil, we will do our best to break some new ground when the two candidates meet in a climactic WBZ-TV debate on Tuesday, August 11 at 7pm.
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