Kennedy, Markey circle familiar territory in U.S. Senate primary debate

In a debate at a crucial juncture in their tight U.S. Senate primary battle, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and challenger U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III largely failed to break new ground, rehashing old arguments over esoteric votes and saving the main fireworks for last.

Markey was put in the hot seat late in the hourlong face-off when he dodged several questions from NBC10 Boston moderator Alison King about how much time he spends in Chevy Chase, Md., rather than his hometown of Malden.

“That information is going to be provided,” Markey kept repeating.

But the rehash of an old criticism against Markey opened the door for the 39-year-old Kennedy — who took heat Sunday for his struggles to articulate why he’s challenging a sitting Democrat — to launch one of his most direct attacks yet on the 74-year-old senator’s Massachusetts bona fides.

“When I got in this race, I called around. I had no desire to take on an entrenched incumbent and go for career suicide,” Kennedy said. “But when I called around,” he continued, listing communities from Chelsea to Springfield, “they’d tell you they hadn’t seem him.”

Markey fought back by playing up his Malden roots and touting the litany of endorsements he’s amassed from Massachusetts mayors and state legislators, including Boston Mayor Martin Walsh. But Kennedy waved them away, saying “most of them” — including Walsh — “endorsed you before I got in this race.”

“This race is not going to be won on endorsements,” Kennedy said. “It is a Washington thing to think that endorsements of elected officials means credibility and means success. That is the politics of the past and it does not work.”

The rival pols took to a socially distanced debate stage Sunday night at a critical time in their increasingly narrow primary battle, with vote-by-mail applications landing in mailboxes and the clock winding down to sway swaths of undecided voters before Sept. 1 after the race was for months relegated to the background by the coronavirus pandemic.

But the opponents largely circled familiar territory. They again sparred over votes on a controversial immigrant detention center “bed quota.” Markey slammed Kennedy’s votes for the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act. Kennedy called out the online rancor from Markey backers that led his campaign to pull a planned fundraiser with Broadway stars, saying one of the senator’s supporters tweeted “bullying works.”

And they continued to offer little by way of difference on key issues. Both pols expressed reservations about sending kids back to school in full this fall amid the pandemic and said they supported mandatory mask wearing. They both called to “reimagine” policing in America in response to a question about whether they supported activists’ calls to “defund the police.” And they both punted on whether Republican Gov. Charlie Baker should have a third term.

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