Kennedy Vote

Joseph Kennedy III

An internal poll shows U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III with a lead over Sen. Edward Markey in a primary battle, a source says, but local Democrats say it would a tough fight that could divide the party.

The Kennedy campaign poll showed the congressman with a “clear” lead beyond the margin of error, according to the source, who has seen the results.

The source said Thursday that Kennedy does especially well in his own 4th Congressional District, which includes the Attleboro area, and also in Boston, Cape Cod, the Merrimack Valley and from Worcester west.

Markey, who served in the House from 1976 to 2013, is strongest in his old district, according to the source. That district includes suburbs west of Boston such as Medford, Framingham, Woburn and Melrose.

But a Markey spokesman said the senator has been pleased with the enthusiastic response he has been getting on the campaign trail.

“There is tremendous energy for the leadership Senator Markey is providing in the Senate on the issues like gun safety, climate change, and health care that matter most to the people of Massachusetts. He looks forward to continuing to campaign hard and to fight in the Senate for what matters to his constituents,” the spokesman said.

Kennedy, D-Brookline, reportedly will make a decision within a few weeks on whether to challenge Markey next year in a Senate primary.

Although he is looking at a Senate run, he has said that at present he is planning to seek another term in the House.

“Right now Congressman Kennedy is running for re-election. He is extremely proud of his record of service in Attleboro — from his active Main Street constituent office to his extensive partnerships with local service organizations, his fight for former Texas Instruments workers and his leadership securing federal resources to help fight opioid abuse throughout the region. He will continue to work hard to earn the support of his constituents,” his campaign said in a statement.

Local Democrats said if Kennedy does run for Senate, they will be torn by the choice they will have to make.

Some usually outspoken Democrats declined to talk about it on the record, saying the situation is too sensitive right now.

One compared to it being forced to take sides when your friends get divorced.

They said they know Kennedy better because he represents the local area in the House and they like him personally and appreciate the job he’s done. But they also respect Markey, who has a similar voting record.

Among those who would speak on the record, there was no consensus.

Marilyn Powers, a longtime party activist from Attleboro, said she had intended to support Markey before word got out that Kennedy might run.

She said both men are strong on issues and good campaigners, but a primary could divide the party.

“I am concerned this could create a divisive atmosphere around the election,” she said. “I like and respect both.”

Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux, a Democrat, also said he likes both men, but is backing Markey.

“I think that Congressman Kennedy will make a fine senator someday and he will very likely have my support when an open seat for U.S. Senate presents itself,” Heroux said via email.

“I have met with Senator Markey on several occasions,” the mayor continued. “The senator understands the global issues like nuclear disarmament and climate change and the challenges working families are faced with. I believe that Senator Markey has been very good to Attleboro and Massachusetts, and he has my support for reelection in 2020.”

Paul Jacques, head of the Attleboro firefighters union, who has worked on Kennedy campaigns in the past, said he would back the congressman in a Senate race.

“Joe has been an excellent congressman and has support from the everyday working people in the district and outside. He is a true fighter that will be a leader that the state and country needs. For those reasons I’d be in support,” Jacques said, also via email.

The prospect of Kennedy challenging someone from his own party for higher office is not only the talk among Democrats, but Republicans, too.

State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, said he thinks the chances of Kennedy running are only at about 40 percent because Kennedy has always been a loyal party man.

But, Jeff Bailey, chairman of the Attleboro Republican City Committee, said he believes Kennedy will run for Senate and that challenging other Democrats in a primary is a family tradition.

Bailey pointed to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., running the in a primary against incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter, and former Rep. Patrick Kennedy beating a Democratic incumbent in Providence for a state representative seat.

Jim Hand may be reached at 508-236-0399 or jhand@thesunchronicle.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TSCpolitics.

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