The primary race between incumbent Sen. Ed Markey, and his challenger, Rep. Joe Kennedy, has become one of the closest watch races in the country. In fact, the final debate is set for next week. WGBH News spoke last week with Sen. Markey on WGBH News' Morning Edition. And today, host Joe Mathieu talked with Congressman Kennedy about a number of issues tied to the campaign. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Rep. Joe Kennedy: Joe, good morning. Great to be with you.
Joe Mathieu: Good to have you back. And just to start, we can assure our listeners that a primary election will happen as scheduled on Sept. 1, right? Even after the president suggested that we delay elections until it's safer.
Kennedy: Let's be very clear about this. You can rest assured that a primary is going to happen on Sept. 1 and a general election will happen on November 3. The president, unfortunately, seems to have not read the Constitution. So, of all of the concerns I have out there, and there are many, Election Day is not one of them.
Mathieu: Ballot applications have already been mailed out in Massachusetts. Now, Congressman, this campaign has been going on since before most of us knew what COVID-19 was or ever heard of it. Do you consider yourself the front-runner or the underdog in this race?
Kennedy: Look, I think anytime, Joe, you're going up against an incumbent, and particularly an incumbent that's been in office for as long as Sen. Markey has, it's my challenge, right? And so we've been fighting and scrapping from the moment I got in this race back in September. And we will do so right on 'till the end, because I do think that it's on me to articulate why we need change. And as I've gotten out and about, even in the midst of COVID — which obviously has put a damper on some of this — but people want it. They are are doing everything that they possibly can to try to find a way to make ends meet, to fight for a better future for themselves and their families. And I think they need a senator that's going to do the same.
Mathieu: You and Sen. Markey are both Democrats, of course, and agree on a lot of issues. So you've made the idea of showing up a big centerpiece of your campaign. You recently called out the senator over a map that his campaign released showing his work for the state's 351 cities and towns. Your campaign was called out for mentioning some towns that are actually at the bottom of the Quabbin Reservoir. And I don't want to relive that entire thing. But is that what this race comes down to? The original spirit of my question, does showing up mean the same thing in the age of COVID that it used to in politics?
Kennedy: I think it means everything, particularly now, Joe. And, look, the issue that we tried to raise there is that you can't be an effective representative for the people of Massachusetts, people around our country, if you're not going to be able to be in position to hear their concerns and fight for them. I think what we're seeing in so many levels across the country today is that perhaps despite the best of intentions, our policies in Washington are not having the desired impact that they are in our communities. And what that means is you've got a Washington is disconnected from our main streets and our schools and the small businesses that we need to be able to support so that they can thrive. And that's the issue. It's that Senator Markey hasn't been not just as present in these communities. I don't think he has been, but it's bigger than that.
It's literally about the role of a representative, the role of a senator, and how you channel the voices of the people you want to represent to make sure that their voices and their concerns are at the policy making table.
Mathieu: Congressman, Senator Markey, as I mentioned, was on with us last week, and I asked him about his comments in a recent debate when he called you a progressive in name only. Now, I know that he's known you and has known your father, your family for decades. And I asked him if he thought you were some sort of closet conservative. I'll play his answer for you. And then I'd love to give you a chance to respond.
Sen. Ed Markey: When Congressman Kennedy had a chance to talk about the climate crisis in his response to Trump's State of the Union, he didn't even mention the climate crisis. When he was a lawyer, just before he ran for Congress, he was working for a right wing Republican district attorney on Cape Cod, the most right wing district attorney in a generation. In a state where he had a chance to cast a vote on whether or not to provide military weapons to local police, he voted to do so on the floor of the United States Congress. These are issues.
Mathieu: Congressman Kennedy, what do you say to that?
Kennedy: Joe, look, I've known Sen. Markey for as long as I can remember. And I respect him. I know this is a tight race. It's disappointing for me, obviously, to hear a man who I respect characterize my career like that. I think if you put my — I'm proud of my record. It's a progressive record. I've been endorsed by the head of the Progressive Caucus. I've led the Transgender Equality Task Force here, fighting for trans rights in Washington, D.C., and in Congress. I'm a proud supporter of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. And yes, I was chosen by our leadership, Democratic leadership, to rebut President Trump's vision for his presidency in his first State of the Union. And I, in fact, said that he declared absolute war on environmental protection. So I understand that as races get tighter, incumbents end up trying to reconfigure facts to their liking. I wish it didn't happen, but obviously all too often these days it does.
Mathieu: I bring this up, Congressman, because this does have a personal feel to it as we get into the final month here of the campaign. You go on Twitter, you go on social media, and it gets pretty tough. I'm sure you're well aware of this. And I want to give you a chance to respond to some of the stuff that I am seeing. Your critics like to question your motivation. Some say that you are a product of privilege and otherwise might not be in this race if your name wasn't Kennedy.
Kennedy: Joe, look, obviously, no one likes to read those things. What I would say is I got in this race knowing that it was going to be hard. And knowing that it was a challenge. And with deep consideration as to whether this was something I was willing to do, particularly given that I've represented my House seat, I think pretty well. I've heard a lot of support from from my constituents there.
This choice for me was, one, literally risking my entire career. But, if we look around our commonwealth and our country, if you do not think that we can be so much better than we are. Joe, I talked to a woman the other day, a restaurant owner, that literally cut a hole in the side of her wall to be able to put in takeout window. I talked to a man who had had a heart attack, was homeless, who had a heart attack on Thursday and on Saturday was back in a homeless camp on the side of Route 2 because that is where he said our society made him feel the most comfortable. He didn't feel like he belonged anywhere else but in a camp two days after he had a heart attack.
You talk to small business owners that are struggling to survive, you talk to the fishermen that whose livelihoods are on the line again. You talk to folks, and you know that we are so much better than this moment. And I think we've got a senator who's a very decent man, but is not not only present here in Massachusetts fighting for our constituents enough, but isn't taking on the big challenges that we need to take on in order to deliver that change. And so, yeah, I decided to risk my entire political career because I don't think that we can ask that our government, our senators can ask our people to fight this fight alone. I can say you fight it. But, I'll sign onto the right bill and tell you that's the best I can do. No, it's not. Our people deserve more. And I'm willing to risk it all to prove it.
Mathieu: Congressman Joe Kennedy, thank you for all of your answers this morning, we're going to be covering this race very closely for the next month. And we look forward to having you back with us on WGBH has Morning Edition.