On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) waded into the contentious primary race between incumbent Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and challenger Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), throwing Kennedy her endorsement.
The move, hours before the supposed triumphant last night of the Democratic National Convention, immediately drew confusion and accusations of hypocrisy.
The race between Markey and Kennedy is neck-and-neck, and has gotten more heated in recent days as both sides have unsheathed personal attacks. Markey has been using Kennedy’s familial dynasty to paint him as uber-privileged and bolster his progressive support, homing in on a Super PAC supported by Kennedy’s family members.
Kennedy, meanwhile, appears to be trying to peel off some of Markey’s support among local activists and big-name progressive stars, and has been going after the veteran lawmaker’s civil rights record, bashing him on his opposition to bussing and support of the 1994 crime bill.
To this point, both Markey and Kennedy had scooped up some major endorsements, but Markey has gotten more. The senator, who helped write the Green New Deal, won over his co-author Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). He also bagged Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), as well as a handful of U.S. representatives and mayors from Massachusetts. Markey also got the nod from the Boston Globe, sending Kennedy’s campaign into a tizzy over the newspaper’s “disproportionately white, well-off, well-educated readers.”
Kennedy got endorsements from the late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), but notably fewer in-state supporters. His only senatorial supporter is Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).
The uneven number of endorsements secured by the two candidates up to this point is part of the reason that Pelosi’s hat tip is so odd — especially because it conflicts with Markey’s endorsement by her close ally, Schumer. Kennedy and Markey hold nearly identical policy stances, leading some to question why Kennedy would mount the bid in the first place, other than because he wants to be a senator.
Some have pointed to Kennedy’s superior fundraising abilities as her rationale, or the fact that he can be cast as a rising star in the party, one of the reasons he was picked to rebut President Donald Trump’s 2018 state of the union address. He has also been a faithful ally to Pelosi since his election. But Pelosi was on seemingly good terms with Markey, too, appointing him over other prominent politicians to head up a committee on climate change-related issues during her first term.
“Never before have the times demanded we elect courageous leaders as today. And that is why I’m proud to endorse Joe Kennedy for Senate,” Pelosi said in a video Thursday. “He knows that to achieve progressive change, you must be on the front lines leading movements of people.”
She underscored Kennedy’s efforts to help Democrats flip the House in 2018.
The backlash to her endorsement was immediate.
No one gets to complain about primary challenges again. 🤗
So @dccc, when can we expect you to reverse your blacklist policy against primary orgs?
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) August 20, 2020
Progressives, including Ocasio-Cortez, noted a DCCC policy to blacklist vendors who work with candidates challenging sitting lawmakers, one she has long been vehemently opposed to.
“Nancy Pelosi’s endorsement of Joe Kennedy makes one thing clear: there’s one set of rules for progressives and another for the party establishment,” Justice Democrats, a caucus that supports progressive candidates, tweeted. “It’s hypocrisy.”
Markey, though, sounded a note of graciousness in his response.
“Speaker Pelosi is an effective leader who has shattered glass ceilings throughout her career,” he wrote on Twitter. “I had the privilege to work alongside Nancy in the House for decades and any candidate would be proud to have her endorsement. I congratulate Joe Kennedy on securing her support.”