Last week’s presidential primary was a record breaker in Massachusetts, at least for Democrats.
Secretary of State William Galvin said Monday that there were 1,417,498 votes cast in the Democratic race on Super Tuesday. The previous best was 1,352,157 in 2008, when Hillary Clinton took the state. Barack Obama finished second and went on to win the nomination and the presidency. Twelve years later, his running mate, 77-year-old Joe Biden, won Massachusetts and several other states to catapult himself into front-runner status. (President Donald Trump easily took the Republican primary, where 276,811 votes were cast.)
Citizens may be breathing a sigh of relief now that the primary has passed and the barrage of television ads has abated (especially now that free-spending billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer have dropped out of the race). But we must resist the urge to go into political hibernation until November or even the Sept. 1 state primary, as there are races elsewhere on the ballot that deserve our collective attention.
Chief among them is an unusual race for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate. We say unusual because it is rare for a sitting senator -- or congressman, for that matter -- to face a challenge from within his own party. Incumbent Ed Markey has served the state on Capitol Hill since 1976 and is still viewed favorably by his colleagues and constituents. A recent survey by Morning Consult lists Markey as the nation’s 13th most popular senator, with 51% of voters approving and just 25% disapproving.
That hasn’t stopped 4th District Congressman Rep. Joe Kennedy III, he of the “Kennedy” Kennedys, from challenging Markey. Kennedy has lined up several local endorsements on his way to front-runner status, even as he and Markey have struggled to show voters the difference in their politics. In the early going at least, much of the focus has been on style over substance. Local voters can have a say in changing that narrative.
“The context of his challenge is the visceral anger Massachusetts Democrats feel toward President Trump and their frustration at not being able to do very much about the way he conducts himself,” Tufts University political scientist Jeffrey Berry told the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics earlier this year. “They want their members of Congress to be fighters — to take Trump to the woodshed and give him a whuppin’. Sen. Markey’s personality doesn’t fit well into that. Markey is calm and reasoned, and those are good qualities in a political leader. But they’re not enough for at least some voters here. This creates an opportunity for Congressman Kennedy.”
If North Shore and Merrimack Valley voters are serious about moving past such surface impressions, they should insist that at least one of the upcoming debates between the two be held in Essex County and focus on local issues, ranging from the health of our ocean and waterways to the federal government’s role in easing our transportation woes.
The same goes for the 6th District, where Congressman Seth Moulton, who launched his own ill-fated bid for the presidency, faces a primary challenge of his own. Angus McQuilken, a 50-year-old Topsfield resident and co-founder of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, kicked off his campaign in Beverly over the weekend. He joins Salem State trustee and mental health advocate Jamie Belsito of Topsfield and WorldStove founder Nathaniel Mulcahy of Rockport as declared candidates for the Democratic nomination. To date, there is no challenge for the region’s other congressional seat, from the 3rd District, held by incumbent Congresswoman Lori Trahan.
There appears to be few candidates willing to mount campaigns for the state Legislature. As Statehouse reporter Christian Wade noted last month, only three of the region’s 20 state lawmakers have challengers thus far. Fortunately, prospective challengers have until May to get themselves on the ballot for the September primary. Here’s hoping more people step up. Citizens deserve contested elections all across the ballot.