The coronavirus outbreak has ground the Senate primary race between Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy III to a virtual halt, as the two campaigns turn their focus from each other to efforts to limit the spread of the disease.
Kennedy’s campaign announced Friday that his campaign was temporarily suspending activities for at least a week. Markey’s team is working remotely. And the debate next week between the two democrats was postponed Friday.
“We don’t believe it is appropriate or wise to continue political activities given the reality that Massachusetts families and communities are facing,” Kennedy’s campaign manager, Nick Clemons, in a statement Friday. “Our top priority is ensuring our staff, supporters, community, and the general public are safe.”
The Massachusetts congressman’s campaign said they were closing all five of their offices by the end of Friday, instructing staff to work from home, and suspending fundraising and voter contact. That means the ever-tactile aspects of campaigning, from door-knocking to town halls, are coming to a halt. And while the campaign will maintain its presence online and on social media, Clemons said “these channels will be used exclusively to share information related to COVID-19 and the work Joe is doing.”
Clemons said the campaign will reassess the decision to suspend its activities by next Friday, March 20.
During a press teleconference Friday afternoon, Markey told reporters that the coronavirus outbreak “transcends anything else,” including his re-election campaign.
“Our campaign staff has been working remotely for two days,” he said, according to Politico. “I’ve suspended all in-person activities. We are going to, without question, prioritize this. This is the only thing that I’m focused on.”
More from @edmarkey: “The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, announced at the close of business yesterday that we are going to be in session next week & so without question this crisis of transcends anything else, we have to focus on it. I will be in the senate next week.”
— Stephanie Murray (@stephanie_murr) March 13, 2020
As local, state, and federal officials take aggressive action to slow the coronavirus’s spread, Markey has been relying on “friend-to-friend organizing,” in which supporters talk to people they know, as opposed to large-scale events, his campaign manager, John Walsh, told Politico earlier this week. However, Markey said Friday the campaign will “will continue to operate because an engaged democracy is important.”
“My campaign is committed to building, supporting, and strengthening connections to help people continue to feel a sense of community during this crisis,” the senator wrote in a Medium post Friday. “We are providing maximum accommodation for staff, volunteers, and supporters to take care of themselves, their families, and their loved ones as we have since the coronavirus became apparent.”
Markey and Kennedy had been scheduled to debate for the second time Wednesday night in Springfield. However, Markey told reporters Friday that he expected to be in Washington, D.C., next week, as Congress continues to negotiate a legislative package to respond to the growing crisis, and Kennedy’s campaign had said they were hopeful the event could be rescheduled.
Later on Friday, the consortium of media outlets sponsoring the event announced that it was indeed postponed and they planned to work with the campaigns to schedule a new time that would “best benefit the voters of the Commonwealth.”
Western Mass News, which was set to host the debate, had already announced Thursday that there would be no live audience and limited visitors, amid coronavirus concerns.
The Massachusetts Democratic Party also announced earlier this week that it would be suspending all caucuses — during which members elect delegates for the state convention in May — until further notice, after Gov. Charlie Baker announced a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus. State officials say that at least 123 people in Massachusetts have tested positive for the contagious disease.
Both candidates have said the pandemic highlights the fundamental need for the United States to improve its health care system and support for families. Kennedy has called for COVID-19 testing and treatment to be free for all Americans — as well as a national paid sick leave program, a cause once pushed by another member of his family, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Markey has also called for the federal government to take more urgent action and said Friday he will introduce legislation to bolster emergency assistance, including free coronavirus treatment and emergency sick leave. He also reiterated his support for Medicare for All (which Kennedy also supports).
“You know what would make everyone feel better right now? A single payer healthcare system,” Markey tweeted.