Two months before thousands of Democrats were due to gather in Lowell for an election-year nominating convention, the head of the state Democratic Party said Monday night he would move to cancel the convention out of fear of contributing to the spread of coronavirus.
The step was taken with the support of U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, whose primary race is the only statewide contest on the ballot in September and who are the only candidates with something at stake at the convention.
Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Gus Bickford said he would ask the state committee to call off the convention. If approved on Saturday during a virtual meeting of the party's governing body, Bickford will write to Secretary of State William Galvin asking that he put both Markey and Kennedy on the ballot.
"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," Bickford said in a statement. "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. While these changes require that we not hold a convention this year, they do not mean that Democratic activism has slowed."
"I am heartened by the creative ways Democratic campaigns and activists have adapted their strategies and the ways in which they continue to push our Democratic message, reach out to Massachusetts voters, and provide comfort during this uncertain time," Bickford said.
The convention had been scheduled to take place at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell on May 30, where delegates were expected to hear from elected leaders in a major presidential election year and vote in the contested U.S. Senate primary to determine who qualifies for the ballot and who would received the party's official endorsement.
Markey and Kennedy's campaigns agreed that the incumbent Markey was likely to win the convention, and therefore receive the party's endorsement, but it was also assumed that Kennedy would receive at least 15 percent of convention vote to qualify for the ballot.
"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. On behalf of the Markey and Kennedy campaigns, we support the solution that the party has proposed," Markey campaign manager John Walsh and Kennedy campaign manager Nick Clemons said in a joint statement.
Historically, a victory for a candidate at the convention can be a good sign of a campaign's organizational strength and support, but it has not always translated to electoral success.
For instance in 2014, then Treasurer Steve Grossman won the party's endorsement for governor, but lost the primary to Martha Coakley, who was the attorney general. That same year Warren Tolman bested Maura Healey at the convention, but lost to the newcomer in their race for attorney general.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 disease upended the normal rhythm of politics earlier this month, forcing campaigns to adapt to a period of social distancing and reduced attention, the Democratic Party had already suspended the weekend caucuses to elect delegates to the convention.
Walsh, in a separate statement for the Markey campaign, claimed that the Malden Democrat had already won the "prized endorsement of the grassroots convention" by securing the support of 70 percent of the elected delegates — a statistic that was quickly disputed by the Kennedy campaign.
"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. "Ed Markey leads and delivers on the full range of issues that matter, including helping voters support themselves, their families and their livelihoods during this crisis while not losing sight of long-term issues, including protecting health care for all, attacking climate change and pushing for a cure to Alzheimer's by 2025."
Kennedy's camp concedes that it was trailing Markey in delegates, and likely to lose the convention, which is often dominated by party insiders, but campaign spokesman Michael Cummings said the campaign believed Markey had closer to 54 percent support of elected delegates, to Kennedy's 34 percent, with 12 percent undecided.
A number of caucuses where Kennedy expected to do well were also still to come before the virus forced a pause in the gatherings, including caucuses in Kennedy's hometown of Newton and cities in his congressional district like Fall River, Attleboro and Taunton.
The party said 102 local caucuses had not taken place when the party suspended the process on March 10.
Kennedy on Monday tweeted that the party had made the right decision to put the health and safety of delegates first.
"Grateful to the thousands of volunteers who joined our team throughout the caucus process. Stay healthy. Stay safe. We will get through this together. Then on to Sep 1st!," he Tweeted.
Markey on Monday evening held a conference call with Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Small Business Committee, to review for small business owners what was in the $2 trillion stimulus package signed Friday by President Donald Trump.
Kennedy continued his nightly broadcast series by hosting celebrity Boston chef Tiffani Faison to teach online viewers how to cook a soy sauce and cola poached chicken and discuss the impact COVID-19 has had on the restaurant industry and its workers.