BOSTON (CBS) – Sen. Ed Markey and his Democratic primary challenger, Rep. Joe Kennedy have already had their first televised debate. There are four more to come before the September first primary, including a showdown at WBZ-TV on August 11th. And among those who watched the first one, the two candidates are in a virtual tie.

But our exclusive Suffolk University/WBZ-TV/Boston Globe poll finds Kennedy in the lead by six points, just outside the survey’s 4.4 percent margin of error.

Polls taken last fall when Kennedy jumped in may have given him a big lead, but as this race comes into focus, so are some of Markey’s political strengths.

(WBZ-TV Graphic)

Fifty-three percent of those polled rate Markey’s performance in office good or excellent. Just under 50 percent say he deserves to be re-elected.

For an incumbent these days, those aren’t bad numbers.

Nonetheless, this poll shows the challenger holding the upper hand in key areas.

READ MORE: Massachusetts Poll | Crosstabs

Kennedy leads among voters 18 to 55, none of them old enough to remember the political heyday of his famous relatives (although a sizeable percent of them remain undecided).

And in a party where taking on President Trump is considered job one, Kennedy is seen by nearly a two-to-one margin as a better Trump adversary than Markey.

The two men are in a virtual tie among liberals, but Kennedy cleans up with moderates by a 48 to 31 percent spread. And in a pre-Labor day primary where getting your voters out will be make or break, Kennedy’s 15 point advantage among usually high-turnout union members is a positive leading indicator.

So, too, is the geographical turnout advantage Kennedy will enjoy by virtue of giving up his House seat. “In the southeastern Mass/Cape region, Kennedy up by 31 points,” notes Dave Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. “Markey winning in Middlesex and Essex counties is a nice thing, but it doesn’t offset Kennedy’s geographical advantage. Geography is gonna trump any of the other demographics.”

Not to mention the generational geography of this matchup.

When you have a 39-year-old challenger taking on a 73-year-old incumbent, the generational contrast is going to be front and center. It’ll be up to Ed Markey to find a way to make that work for him or at least neutralize it.

For more discussion of this poll, Saturday’s Suffolk/WBZ/Globe poll of the Massachusetts presidential primary, and analysis of the Super Tuesday results, stream CBSN Boston from 8-10 p.m. Tuesday night March 3, with coverage switching to TV38 at 10 p.m. and WBZ News at 11 p.m.

Jon Keller

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