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5 Things For Central MA Voters to Watch in Senate Special Election Debates

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


The first debate of the candidates vying for former U.S. Senator John Kerry's seat in Congress will be held on Wednesday in a combined shortened debate of only 30 minutes per party.

The Democrats, U.S. Reps. Stephen Lynch and Edward Markey, will be the first to debate, followed by the three Republicans: Former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, Cohasset businessman and Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez and state Rep. Daniel Winslow.

With a short 30 minute window, there won't be much time to focus on the many issues which could include health care, education, the economy, jobs, national security and more. Here are five of the possible things to look for in tonight's debates.

First Impressions Are Important

Making a first impression is considered by many to be of paramount importance, Robert Boatright, associate professor of Political Science at Clark University said, "To be honest, I don’t know that many people are paying attention to this race yet! The Democrats haven’t even been able to schedule more than half of the debates they proposed. I don’t think this debate matters all that much." 

Boatright added, "On the Democratic side, this gives Lynch, who I think has been slightly less visible and appears to be trailing, the chance to get some attention. But I think later debates will matter more, as it dawns on voters that there is a primary coming up. As to the Republicans, I think there’s some curiosity about Gomez, who has been campaigning the most aggressively."

Gaining Visibility

Srinivasan Sitaraman, associate professor of Political Science at Clark University thinks that getting out there with a message quickly is important. "Mr. Ed Markey is the more experienced one. He has been in the House of Representatives and he knows how to work the system, and how to get things moving." 

Sitaraman also said, "Besides, he has got the support of the Democratic Party establishment with key endorsements and a war chest to support his campaign. So it would be indeed highly surprising if Markey does not win the nomination. Kudos to Lynch for running an aggressive campaign and he is making Markey fight for his nomination, instead of allowing him to coast to an easy victory. This in many ways is a good thing because it might work to energize the democratic base, which is probably bit tired after the Warren Senate campaign."

He added, "Overall this is an election in which Democrats should surely prevail, if they don't they have only themselves to blame for it. It will eventually come down to voter turnout, so I think the emphasis should be placed on get the vote out campaigns. The grassroots efforts should be the focus of the campaigns now."

Setting The Agenda/Issues

Some point to the issues right away as a point of attention in the early debates. Darrell West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution said, "The opening debate is crucial because first impressions shape how voters view the candidates. If someone gets off to a great start, it often is hard to derail him down the road. The initial public encounter will affect media coverage and fundraising. Donors like to go with a winner so coming across well in the first encounter is very important."

Paul Giorgio, Democratic State Committeeman said that the apathy for the election at this point stems from voter burnout.

"Between the Presidential Election and the Senate race, voters are just burned out right now."

With a short time frame, Giorgio expects the debate to have time for only about three questions each.

"I would expect Rep. Markey to speal more on the issues that separate them and Lynch to speak more of his lifestory in the first debate," he said. "Two areas to possibly watch could be the Pro-life platform that Lynch supports and Markey is against and the Obama Care issue that Lynch voted against and Markey supported."

Putting Distance Between Candidates

Of special importance is getting separation from the other candidates and becoming the front-runner. West said, "It is hard to stand out of the crowd when there are a number of candidates on stage. Each person will seek to find a particular niche that advantages them and use that to distinguish themselves from the opponents. Candidates who are less well known have to do something to differentiate their candidates. They can do this on issue or personal grounds. I would be surprised if there were hardball punches thrown in the debate. Candidates typically save that for later in the campaign."

Gaining Some Momentum

Getting the upper hand early is also important and getting the voters interested says Sitaraman, "Overall this is an election in which Democrats should surely prevail, if they don't they have only themselves to blame for it. It will eventually come down to voter turnout, so I think the emphasis should be placed on get the vote out campaigns. The grassroots efforts should be the focus of the campaigns now."

The debates will be held at the studios of WCVB-TV, Channel 5 and will be moderated by R.D. Sahl, special correspondent for New England Cable News.

The Republican candidates will then be in Springfield on Thursday, March 28 at 7 p.m. for an hour-long debate.

The primary is scheduled for Tuesday, April 30 and the special election for June 25.


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