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Ed Markey beats Joe Kennedy III in hotly contested Massachusetts Senate primary

U.S. Representative Joe Kennedy III holds a primary election rally in Watertown
U.S. Democratic Senate candidate and current U.S. Representative Joe Kennedy III, who ran for the seat held by U.S. Senator Ed Markey, speaks at his primary election rally in Watertown, Massachusetts, September 1, 2020. BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS

The Kennedy family's perfect record in Massachusetts elections ended on Tuesday when Congressman Joe Kennedy III conceded to incumbent Senator Ed Markey in the Democratic Senate primary. The grandson of Robert F. Kennedy took the stage at his campaign headquarters in Watertown shortly after 10 p.m. to address the press and thank campaign staff.  

"I called Senator Markey to congratulate him and pledge my support to him and his campaign in the months ahead," Kennedy said.  "The senator is a good man. You have never heard me say otherwise. It is difficult at times between us. Good elections often get heated, but I'm grateful for the debate."  

The primary battle between Kennedy and the incumbent senator grew contentious in recent months as the two tried to separate themselves, even though they differ very little on policy. Markey invoked the Kennedy family name in campaign speeches leading up to Tuesday.  

On Monday night, Markey said to supporters, "I think it's right at this time to ask what your country can do for you," playing off of the famous John F. Kennedy inaugural address in which he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country."  

Senator Ed Markey holds a primary election rally in Malden
U.S. Senator Ed Markey takes the stage at his primary election rally in Malden, Massachusetts, September 1, 2020. GRETCHEN ERTL/REUTERS

In his concession speech Tuesday, Kennedy thanked his entire family.  

"To my family, the Kennedy family, whose name was invoked far more than I anticipated in this race, to my mom, my dad, my twin brother, and rest of a rowdy bunch of crazy cousins – you all are my heroes," he said. "You are my role models. You are my examples 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."  

Under Massachusetts law a candidate can't run for House and Senate at the same time, so Kennedy will not be returning to Congress in January, and his future political career was unclear.  

Markey, who has not lost an election in 47 years, will go on to face Republican Kevin O'Connor in November, but likely won't have a problem as the race is considered a safe Democratic seat.  

Just a year ago, Markey was already facing two challengers and was down double digits in the polls to Congressman Kennedy, who had not even formally entered the race at the time. Markey made the race competitive by focusing on his progressive agenda and his co-authorship of the Green New Deal with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Ocasio-Cortez' endorsement energized many young voters.  

Abigail Mack, 17, of Bridgewater, Massachusetts, told CBS News she would be voting for Markey in the general election because of his progressive proposals.  

"I think Joe Kennedy – the fact that Ed Markey was the person he was challenging is what turned me away from him because trying to challenge an incumbent that is a progressive kind of defeats the purpose of trying to put someone new in," Mack said. "Like when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ran against Joe Crowley, I think that was a race that needed to happen to get someone more progressive in a seat that was held by someone who was just a sitting duck."     

Daniela Finlay, a student at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, told CBS News that she was backing Markey, "because he's been fighting for our futures since before I was even alive, and I'm not supporting Joe Kennedy because I don't think now is the time to be primarying the author of the Green New Deal."  

At recent campaign events Kennedy had shown frustration with questions about why he was running now - a question he faced regularly. In his stump speech, he mentioned that he wasn't asked that question when he showed up to communities in Massachusetts.   

Kennedy, down in the polls, spent Tuesday making 10 different stops around the commonwealth, hitting places including Boston, Fall River, and Worcester, in part to encourage people to vote on Election Day.  

"We know our voters are more likely to vote on Election Day," Nick Clemons, Kennedy's campaign manager, told CBS News over the weekend. "They're not early voters, they're not vote by mail folks, so we're pushing our coalition out the door." 

After poll closing, Kennedy didn't win enough of an edge in places like Worcester and Lowell to overcome Markey's strong showing in college towns like Cambridge or in the suburbs of Boston.  

In his remarks to campaign staff, Kennedy said Tuesday's results were obviously not what he had hoped for, but he was proud to have had a team that he said would be the future of the Democratic Party.  

His final thank you was to his two young children, Ellie and James who are four and two years old.  

"To Ellie and James, who probably will not see this until tomorrow and won't understand it for a long time, if there's one message from your dad tonight, always spend your life in the ring," Kennedy said. "It is worth the fight." 

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