Mass. Democrats move to cancel the party’s convention — and endorse Ed Markey

Citing the coronavirus, the party said that "current circumstances do not allow for our annual gathering."

Boston, MA., 12/31/2019, US Rep Jo Kennedy III, and Senator Markey before Democratic candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks at the Old South Church on New Year's Eve. 


Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Rep. Joe Kennedy III and Sen. Ed Markey at a rally for Elizabeth Warren this past December in Boston. –Suzanne Kreiter / The Boston Globe

The Massachusetts Democratic Party is planning to cancel its state convention this spring, in adherence with social distancing efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“While it is unfortunate that the current circumstances do not allow for our annual gathering of Democrats, this is the right decision for the Party to make,”  Gus Bickford, the state party chairman, said in a statement Monday night. “Our duty to protect one another, to protect our friends, family, neighbors and strangers, requires that we all make changes to the way we live.”

The move, which needs to be approved Saturday by the Democratic State Committee, would wipe the May 30 nominating convention off the calendar. It had been scheduled to be held at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.

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In non-election years, the convention typically amounts to a rally where local Democrats meet to discuss policy and hear top party members give speeches. However, this year, delegates would have voted to endorse a candidate in the one big statewide primary race between incumbent Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy III. The vote would have also decided which candidates get placed of the Sept. 1 primary ballot, depending on whether they received at least 15 percent support.

But with no convention, the campaigns agreed that Markey would win the party’s endorsement, but also that Kennedy would surpass the 15 percent threshold. If approved, Bickford will send a letter to Secretary of State Bill Galvin requesting that Markey and Kennedy both be placed on the Senate primary ballot.

The party endorsement — which has almost always been won by incumbents in contested statewide races — signifies establishment support and a certain degree of campaign strength. However, it’s not always predictive of the primary’s ultimate winner. And in the Senate race between two well-known, well-funded candidates, it’s unclear what, if any, effect the endorsement has on voters.

In a joint statement, Markey campaign manager John Walsh and Kennedy campaign manager Nick Clemons said they support the proposed solution.

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“The Massachusetts Democratic Party has been responsive and responsible in each of its decisions during this difficult time, prioritizing the protection of the health and safety of all involved,” they said.

In a separate statement released by the Markey campaign, Walsh said that the 73-year-old senator had won 70 percent of the convention delegates elected at the local caucuses that had been held around the state.

“Our campaign saw incredible turnout by voters who came to caucus for Ed Markey because they know he is a true progressive champion who fights for the people of the Commonwealth,” Walsh said.

However, according to the State House New Service, the Kennedy campaign says Markey had closer to 54 percent support of elected delegates, compared to 34 percent for the 39-year-old congressman, with 12 percent undecided. The state party had suspended local caucuses on March 10 due to the coronavirus. And a number of the 102 caucuses remaining were in communities where Kennedy was expected to perform well, including his hometown of Newton and several cities in his congressional district, including Fall River.

Those 102 caucuses will no longer take place under the plan proposed Monday.

Kennedy — who suspended political activities, like fundraising, due to the COVID-19 outbreak —  tweeted Monday night that the party made the “right call.”

“Stay healthy. Stay safe. We will get through this together. Then on to Sep 1st,” he wrote.

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