LOWELL -- Edward Kennedy, a city councilor and former mayor, emerged victorious from a competitive field, including two other former mayors, to represent the 1st Middlesex District.
Kennedy, 67, will face Lowell's John MacDonald, the lone Republican, in November's general election.
Eileen Donoghue represented the 1st Middlesex Senate District -- which besides Lowell includes the suburban communities of Dunstable, Groton, Pepperell, Tyngsboro and Westford -- from 2010 to earlier this year. Then in April, the Lowell City Council selected her as city manager.
This domino led to five Democrats vying for the Senate seat: Kennedy, City Councilor Rodney Elliott, former City Councilor Bill Martin, former Westford School Committee member Terry Ryan and Lowell's John Drinkwater, legislative director of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. Elliott and Martin, like Kennedy, are former mayors.
"Thank you to everybody for everything, but let's remember that this is just the Democratic nomination," Kennedy said in front of an energetic crowd of supporters at Cappy's Copper Kettle in Lowell.
"We still have two more months of campaigning, and we're going to get right back at it," he added.
Official results were not available as of press time, but Kennedy received about 4,300 votes, followed by Drinkwater with about 3,800 votes.
Kennedy and Elliott, both city councilors, were neck-and-neck after Lowell's votes came in. Kennedy got 2,938 in Lowell, followed by Elliott with 2,874, Drinkwater with 2,331, Martin with 1,481, and Ryan with 550.
Kennedy was ecstatic when he learned he won Groton by about 150 votes.
"I love Groton!" he exclaimed.
"The canvassing was huge there, and in all the towns," Kennedy added. "It really made such a difference."
Kennedy has been adamant that if he's elected to the Statehouse this fall, he would continue to serve as a councilor until the council votes on a loan order for the high school project. Kennedy has said many residents have contacted him about staying on the council.
From all indications, it appears that the council would have six votes for the loan order without Kennedy on the board. Seven of the nine councilors elected last year support the downtown high school project.
Drinkwater, the newcomer to the Lowell political scene, was the dark horse candidate.
"It's a tough feeling," Drinkwater said after speaking to supporters at The Old Court in Lowell. "We put a lot into the race, and came up a bit short.
"I'm proud of all the work that went into the campaign, all of the hard-working volunteers," he added.
Elliott came in third in the race. He had knocked on doors for months and months across the region.
"We fought the fight," he said. "I did everything I could to get my message out.
"It was a hard-fought campaign, and we did the best that we could," Elliott added.
Ryan came in fourth, boosted by a strong showing in Westford.
"It really means a lot to me," he said. "I wish I had done better in Lowell, but I certainly appreciate everyone who cast a vote for me."
Martin came in last, saying he was obviously disappointed in the result.
"But I'm really proud of the campaign I ran," he said. "I just appreciate all the people who came out and supported me."
Voters at the polls on Tuesday emphasized that Kennedy stood apart because of his advocacy for a downtown high school last year. Kennedy became the leader for the downtown site instead of a Cawley high school.
"He showed he was a true leader," said Helen Littlefield, 65, voting at the Reilly School in Belvidere. "He stuck to his guns."
Erik Bates, 62, also voting at the Reilly School, said he voted for Kennedy because the city councilor is a "known quantity to us." Bates also pointed to the high school process.
Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.