Democrats to hear from all U.S. Senate hopefuls at Springfield convention

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Party delegates listened to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren speak at the 2018 state Democratic convention. Warren will also speak at the 2019 convention in Springfield. [Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS/File]

BOSTON (State House News Service) – Massachusetts Democrats gathering in Springfield for their party’s annual convention will have a chance to hear from candidates running for U.S. Senate in 2020, an unusual programming move that the party’s chair said reflects requests from candidates and the “pulse” of the party around what’s shaping up to be an interesting race.

Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Gus Bickford told the News Service on Thursday that candidates Steve Pemberton and Shannon Liss-Riordan, who have each announced runs against U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, had been invited to speak at the party’s “Action Agenda Convention” on Sept. 14.

Earlier Thursday, Pemberton’s campaign issued a press release saying he’d requested that all candidates have the opportunity to address convention delegates. Pemberton said the party “should be centering itself on the voices that represent the forgotten and marginalized, not shutting them out in favor of incumbents and party favorites.”

Typically, the party’s off-year convention focuses on shaping its priorities and candidates speak during the election-year convention, before delegates pick the party’s nominee.

Constitutional officers and members of Congress are invited to speak at the agenda convention, though not all decide to do so. The party has listed Markey as among this year’s speakers, and Bickford said U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy — who is weighing a run for Senate — will do a breakout session afterward, though he will not deliver a speech.

Bickford said it’s “a little bit out of character” to have candidates speak at this year’s convention, but that “things have gotten a little exciting” in the Senate race and the party received verbal requests from challengers’ campaigns over the summer to speak at the convention.

“I think the crew of us here listened to the pulse, I guess is the best way to say it,” Bickford said. “The pulse of our Democratic interest in the last month has changed. This Senate race has become interesting.”

In a release emailed just after noon Thursday, the Pemberton campaign said it had sent a “formal request” to Bickford on Wednesday “asking for the same opportunity to address the delegates afforded to Markey and Kennedy.” Bickford told the News Service the party was planning on reaching out to Pemberton at 12:30 p.m. Thursday.

“When political parties institute rules that favor insiders and the privileged over inclusion, we are putting our ideals at risk,” Pemberton, a former foster child and Framingham resident, said in his initial statement. “For those of us who have been on the exclusionary end of privilege and entitlement, this is an all too familiar refrain. We can no longer allow party insiders to anoint and appoint our representatives.”

Later in the afternoon, Pemberton said in a statement to the News Service that he was looking forward to speaking directly to the party’s delegates.

“Many thanks to Gus Bickford and the Massachusetts Democratic Party for upholding our party’s democratic values and allowing every U.S. Senate candidate to speak at the Convention in September,” he said.

Markey’s senior campaign director, John Walsh, said Markey “welcomes the participation” of Pemberton and Liss-Riordan.

“The state party has always welcomed the voices and candidates that make up the dynamic fabric of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts. Our nation was built on the foundation of open and robust debate, and in these historic times, we need that now more than ever,” Walsh, a former party chairman, said in a statement.

Though Kennedy has not officially entered the race or given a timeline on when he’ll make a decision, the specter of his potential candidacy is playing a role.

In his original statement about letting all candidates speak at the convention, Pemberton called on both Markey and Kennedy to “refuse to speak at the Convention unless all candidates for Senate are allowed the same opportunity.”

Liss-Riordan, whose campaign did not immediately respond to questions about the convention, on Thursday afternoon announced she would not take donations from corporate political action committees and called on Markey to also sign a “No Corporate PAC” pledge. Kennedy announced hours earlier that he’d taken the same pledge, though he didn’t specify which seat he’d be running for next year.

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