PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline endorsed his Massachusetts colleague Joe Kennedy III for U.S. Senate on Tuesday, breaking with his delegation’s two senators to support the prominent young Democrat’s primary challenge against Ed Markey.
The Kennedy campaign announced Cicilline’s endorsement in a news release that listed 18 House Democrats who are backing their colleague’s campaign — a number of whom served with Markey during the latter’s 37 years in the House, including civil rights icon John Lewis.
“Joe has been an unflinching ally in the struggle for full LGBTQ equality,” Cicilline said in a statement. “I’ve seen his commitment to justice and equality firsthand in his strong and passionate leadership of the Trans Equality Task Force and his critical support of the Equality Act. Joe Kennedy has been a serious legislator and has never stopped fighting for the people of Massachusetts by working to raise wages for working families, lower health care costs, and taking on Donald Trump’s corrupt administration.”
“He will be an outstanding United States senator,” Cicilline added.
Cicilline’s decision to support Kennedy is not a shock: the pair were elected just two years apart, represent adjoining Southern New England districts and have worked together on a number of issues. Kennedy even stood by Cicilline’s side when the latter was elected to House leadership.
Yet Cicilline’s move is still noteworthy, particularly since he is now a member of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team. The 39-year-old Kennedy’s effort to oust the 73-year-old Markey has not sat well with some Democrats, including a number of progressives who appreciate Markey’s partnership with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Green New Deal.
Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Markey even before Kennedy jumped into the race, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer headlined a fundraiser for Markey in Boston late last year.
Kennedy’s candidacy is also a challenge to the wait-your-turn ethos of Democratic politics in Massachusetts and Rhode Island — a culture few incumbents want to change. Rhode Island U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse both affirmed their support for Markey immediately after Kennedy jumped into the race last year.
No recent polls have been conducted in the Senate primary, but initial surveys last year showed Kennedy up by double-digits. His campaign announced last week he raised about $1 million more than Markey during the final quarter of 2019.
A third candidate, Shannon Liss-Riordan, is also seeking the Democratic nomination for Senate. The candidates will take part in their first televised debate next month.
The primary is Sept. 1.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook