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Democrats ‘In The Driver’s Seat’ In U.S. Senate Race

Friday, February 15, 2013


With the field still in flux for this June's special U.S. Senate election to replace John Kerry, both major parties have contested primaries on tap, but according to political observers, the Democratic primary will be the real race to watch this spring.

"Democrats are in the driver’s seat at this point," said Darrell West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. "The most prominent Republican possibilities bowed out and this looks like a seat likely to go Democratic."

West said the real action will take place in the Democratic primary and expects it to be a hard-hitting battle with the winner likely to emerge as the frontrunner in the general election.

'People's Pledge' could hurt GOP candidates

U.S. Representatives Ed Markey (D-Malden) and Stephen Lynch (D-South Boston), competing against one another in the Democratic primary, upped the ante in the Senate contest this week by signing their own version of 2012's "People's Pledge" to keep third-party broadcast ads out of the race and expanding it to include direct mail advertising as well.

"I think it’s a no-brainer for the Democrats to both sign the pledge," said Robert Boatright, a professor of Political Science at Clark University. "They get good PR from doing so and wouldn’t benefit from outside spending anyway."

The two congressmen are also calling on their GOP counterparts, officially state Rep. Dan Winslow (R-Norfolk) and businessman and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez, of Cohasset, to do the same. The Republican field was poised to double in size on Thursday with Sean Bielat, a two-time candidate for U.S. Rep. in the Bay State's 4th Congressional District, filing papers for a Senate campaign committee with the Federal Election Commission and former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan giving serious consideration to a run as well.

However, West said the Republicans may have a hard time raising money and staying competitive without outside help, a sentiment Boatright echoed.

"I think the only chance they have to actually win this race is if American Crossroads, Americans for Prosperity, or some other such group decides to dump massive amounts of money into advertising in this race," Boatright said. "I think that’s not very likely, since major conservative groups are preoccupied with other things at the moment and probably don’t think even large expenditures would matter here. But if someone were to try it, it could make things interesting."

Winslow said he would not sign on to the pledge on Thursday, which means if the former Romney aide wins the nomination, the pledge would not be in effect during the general election, though it would still stand during the Democratic primary. It remained unclear whether Gomez, and Bielat or Sullivan if they formally enter the race, will choose to take part or opt out of the pledge.

"With a four-way race, money is going to be a big factor, especially outside money," said Srinivasan Sitaraman, a professor of Political Science at Clark University. "The Republicans are not going to give up that at all. They feel that Markey and Lynch are trying to box them in, so they are unlikely to take the bait."

Contested primaries a boon for both sides

According to Boatright, a contested primary will benefit both parties by raising everyone's visibility, although its positive effects would vary by candidate.

In Lynch's case, it's the only way the congressman from Southie can win. While he has been painted as representative of the more conservative segments of the Democratic party with Markey receiving strong support from the party's progressive ranks, Boatright said that Lynch is not really all that conservative.

"He’s anti-abortion but not a crusader on the subject. He voted against the ACA, but no one really knows why, and he had supported health care reform in the past," Boatright said. "He may benefit in the primary from presenting himself as the logical choice for Scott Brown voters, but I think he’d alienate a lot of Democrats in the process and still not necessarily win."

For Markey, the primary can help to further bolstering his name recognition among voters, and according to Democratic state committee member Paul Giorgio, his positions on issues such as climate change, gay rights and women's rights may give him an inehrent advantage in the competition for the party's nomination.

"Unfortunatley for Steve Lynch, I think people that tend to vote in Democratic primaries are more progressive," Giorgio said. "So I think in a primary the advantage goes to Markey."

2014 and beyond

One thing to remember in the background of the budding Senate race, said Boatright, is that whoever wins this year's special election is going to have to head right back out onto the campaign trail next year when Kerry's former seat comes up for a full six-year term in 2014. Markey and Lynch will both be up for reelection next year as well if they don't advance to the Senate, and so will the Republicans if they decide to seek another public office.

"So everyone has to think a little ahead here."


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