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OPINION: A message from Ed Markey to Sara Gideon: Embrace the youth, win the election

September 25, 2020

This piece represents the opinion of the author .

The Maine Senate race between incumbent Susan Collins and Maine Speaker of the House Sara Gideon is one of the tightest, most high-profile races in the country. Both candidates are hoping to gain momentum and build a tangible lead in the next six weeks, yet neither has been able to earn a consistent advantage in the polls. Considering Collins is one of the least popular senators in the country, left-leaning voters are wondering why Democratic challenger Gideon has not been able to build a more comfortable lead. What can Gideon do to take control of this race and defeat Susan Collins in November? She would be smart to take advice from Sen. Ed Markey, the recently renominated Democratic candidate and heavy favorite in the Massachusetts Senate race.

Markey’s path to victory is now clear. Running in an overwhelmingly liberal state, he’s heavily favored in the polls against Republican candidate Kevin O’Connor. It certainly wasn’t always smooth sailing for Markey, though. Challenger Joe Kennedy III, a member of the House from MA-04 and grandnephew of John F. Kennedy, rode name familiarity and a charismatic personality to a comfortable lead over Markey in the Democratic primary—in May, Markey was down as many as 16 points to Kennedy in the polls. Facing arguably the toughest opponent possible (a Kennedy had never lost an election in Massachusetts), Ed Markey was able to pull off a massive turnaround and win the election thanks to his commitment to and embrace of the progressive youth, whose dedicated efforts on the phones, ground and social media earned him his victory.

To the youth, a Markey loss would be too great to bear. A cosponsor of the Green New Deal and a champion of the lower and middle classes, young people see Markey as a senator of the future, despite him being 35 years older than Joe Kennedy III. When Markey fell in the polls, he turned to the youth movement to help bolster his campaign. He didn’t pander to them with false promises and millennial-targeted gestures—he committed to their futures and welcomed their political support with open arms. The youth bought in, and with clever social media tactics (Markey-Sunrise Movement lofi loops, stylish Markey merchandise, and an incredible Scorsese-style advertisement) as well as an intense dedication to grassroots canvassing and phone banking, Gen Z rebranded Ed Markey as a progressive champion and leader of the future. Markey eventually defeated Kennedy by 10.8 percent, and he especially dominated Kennedy in the youth vote.

If Gideon is looking for an X-factor in order to pull away in this election, she ought to buy into the youth movement and earn their support through committing to their futures. First, endorsing a Green New Deal would straight up earn Gideon more votes. According to a New York Times poll, 57 percent of Mainers support a Green New Deal, and young voters in Maine are overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal. More importantly, endorsing a Green New Deal would earn Gideon the enthusiastic support of young people. No group is more energized to put in the work on the phones and on the ground than young people, and no one is better equipped to leverage social media than young people. While it’s true that Gideon is likely leading Collins amongst young voters right now, the dedicated grassroots support of motivated youth would put Gideon over the top.

One might argue that this isn’t a good strategy because the Markey race was different: Massachusetts is more left leaning, it was a primary, Markey had the incumbency advantage, etc. I would argue that the technical differences between the elections are trivial. Markey was facing a Kennedy in the land of Kennedys, so he essentially had no incumbency advantage. Markey also arguably has a less progressive voting record overall than Kennedy—he voted for the infamous 1994 Crime Bill and for the Iraq War, both of which are very unpopular amongst young people. Markey was able to rebrand his image and overcome a massive deficit against a strong opponent because his commitment to the youth and the policy they care about most earned the voracious support of young people, who then put in the work necessary for a win.

As of right now, while a much better alternative to Sen. Collins, Sara Gideon is no progressive champion. She is certainly leading Collins in the youth vote, but young people don’t see her as a leader of the future. She needs to earn the dedicated efforts of young people in order to surpass Collins, but she must remember that the youth cannot be pandered to. Ed Markey earned their efforts through his commitment to their future. He championed the Green New Deal and stuck with it, and it was that dedication that re-established him as an essential progressive leader. By committing to fighting for a Green New Deal, Sara Gideon would not just secure the youth vote, but would earn their enthusiastic support, which, as we saw in Massachusetts, can help overcome even the toughest odds.


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