At first glance, it’s easy to lump Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Ed Markey. D-Mass., together as two peas in a political pod. Two septuagenarians first elected to Congress in the Watergate era who have been operating in Democratic circles in Washington, D.C., ever since. Two reliably liberal voting records whose political futures were jeopardized by their party’s leftward march.
Most notably, two political careers both left for dead before mounting improbable comebacks in 2020.
But that’s where the similarities end. Accomplishing the once-unthinkable, Markey dispatched a candidate with the last name “Kennedy” in a Massachusetts Democratic primary. He did so by harnessing the power of the young, progressive left, hitching himself early to the rising political star of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez D-N.Y.
Last year, recognizing the political tea leaves, Markey wisely signed on as an original co-sponsor of the then-29-year-old Ocasio-Cortez’ signature Green New Deal, inoculating himself from a challenge from his left flank.
On the other hand, during his quest for his party’s presidential nomination, Biden kept the far-left in his party mostly at bay. Yes, he adopted large swaths of their ideas but avoided a complete capitulation to the loudest voices. Biden kept the Green New Deal at arms’ length – calling it “a crucial framework” – but resisted the bear-hug approach Markey chose.
Of course, Markey and Biden now face far different electorates between now and November.
Barring something catastrophic, Markey is the heavy favorite another six years in the Senate. Any Republican candidate seeking federal office in the deep blue Bay State during a presidential year faces overwhelmingly long odds.
Three months ago, it appeared Biden could also put his general election effort on cruise control en route to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Voters were focused on the government’s response to COVID-19 and disapproved of President Trump’s leadership during the crisis.
Two septuagenarians first elected to Congress in the Watergate era who have been operating in Democratic circles in Washington, D.C., ever since.
But as summer turns to fall, Biden’s path to the White House is no longer an absolute lock. Yes, he is still the favorite. Frankly, any Democrat who didn’t self-identify as a socialist would have started with an advantage over Trump, who pulled an improbable inside strait when he flipped reliably blue states red four years ago.
As the battleground polls and the betting odds tighten, the nervousness from the anti-Trump crowd grows. Unlike three months ago, COVID-19 is not the only issue dominating the national discussion.
President Trump has the power of his bully pulpit trained squarely on his mantra of law and order, a message with currency as the chaos in major American cities continues unabated.
Until recently, Biden has remained mostly out-of-sight, content to let the clock run down as the polls showed him ahead. His recent speech in Pittsburgh and visit to Kenosha represented a shift in strategy, calming the nerves of anxious supporters.
As Ed Rendell, the former Democratic governor of the key state of Pennsylvania and prominent Biden supporter, put it, “What we were afraid of is moderates saying, ‘I hate Donald Trump, but I need to be safe. I have to hold my nose and vote for him’.”
When the election was shaping up to be a referendum on Donald Trump and COVID-19, Biden had the upper hand. If the debate continues shifting onto the friendlier terrain for the incumbent, Trump’s odds improve.
Biden may be raising record amounts of campaign cash, but he’s now spending it in places like Minnesota – a state that last voted for a Republican president in 1972 – ironically the same year Biden was first elected to the Senate.
The electoral map is expanding for Trump, an idea that at the beginning of the summer was as unthinkable as Markey ending the Kennedy dynasty.
With his hard-earned primary victory behind him, Markey is free to kick up his heels at his home in Chevy Chase, Md. Biden doesn’t have the same luxury and is going to have to venture beyond the friendly confines of his Wilmington basement and on to Donald Trump’s turf if he wants a new job come January.