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Mass. US Senate Race Is a Markey-Gomez Matchup—Experts React

Wednesday, May 01, 2013


The Massachusetts US Senate special election primaries were quickly decided as Democratic political veteran Ed Markey and GOP newcomer Gabriel Gomez each tallied quick and decisive victories.

GoLocalWorcester spoke with a variety of national and Central Mass political experts to get their fresh take on the results and what they see as the political landscape for a Markey/Gomez battle heading into the June 25 special election.

Jennifer Duffy, Senior Editor, The Cook Report

First, despite the fact that Gomez is an interesting candidate, he is still running as a Republican in Massachusetts, and is thus a real underdog in this race. I don't intend to change the rating from where it is now - Solid Democrat.

This race will feature all the usual issues currently facing Congress, but fundamentally it will be a classic outsider versus career politician race. Gomez will also work to convince voters that he isn't a standard-issue conservative Republican, pointing to things like his position on gay marriage. He is likely to argue that Markey is a creature of a dysfunctional Congress who has been there too long and has demonstrated no willingness to work across the aisle to find real solutions to the nation's problems. Markey, in turn, is likely to focus on his legislative accomplishments much the way he did in his primary advertising. He will portray Gomez as inexperienced and something of an ideological chameleon, and thus cannot be trusted.

Gomez's strong showing isn't much of a surprise since he was the only Republican candidate with real money in the game.

As for money, Markey won't have any money problems. I think the jury is out on Gomez. He is not likely to attract a lot of money from small dollar grassroots GOP voters because he simply isn't conservative enough. He should do well among Republican big donors.

Moreover, Gomez's victory is a psychological boost for Republicans, giving them a Hispanic candidate not named Marco Rubio at a time when they are trying to reach out to Hispanics.

Gomez's biggest enemy now - and thus Markey's greatest asset - is time. The clock may well run out before Gomez can increase his name recognition and make his case to voters.

Tom Finneran, former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER

Gabriel Gomez win is the big news of the evening. An absolute newcomer to politics, his letter to Governor Patrick requesting consideration as the interim appointee to the US Senate seat insulates him from any Tea Party characterization. His novelty and the absence of any previous political record will make the general election worth watching. Ed Markey had an impressive win over Steve Lynch and he is a capable campaigner. The debates should be great theater and will be crucial in determining the outcome in June.

Paul Giorgio, Democratic State Committee member, Worcester

I think Gabriel Gomez is the Scott Brown of 2013, but Ed Markey clearly will not be the Martha Coakley. He's going to take this to the people. I think this is going to be a battle of classic Democratic values versus Republican extremism.

I think the right wing will be energized by the Gomez victory, which will in turn energize the Democratic base. The Democrats are never going to be caught asleep at the switch again.

Srinivasan Sitaraman, PhD, Associate Professor of Political Science, Clark University

I am actually bit surprised by Gomez's victory. I was expecting that Sullivan would be the candidate to beat and that he would grab all the Scott Brown voters. Gomez at the first cut picked up most of his votes interestingly in Worcester (nearly 1400 votes), Plymouth (nearly 1300 votes), Boston (2700 votes), and Barnstable (about 1440 votes). So these are the areas that Gomez will most likely put a strong fight against Markey, and I think he has the potential to peel away many of the Hispanic voters to his side and attract new voters. With about 92 percent reporting and given the three-way split in the Republican primaries, all three candidates in the Republican Party were able to collectively gather roughly about 165,000 votes, whereas Markey alone was able to garner 284,000 votes. Now that is a strong lead and Gomez has to really battle to win over the voters to his side.

Clearly Markey has huge advantages, but what is striking about Gomez is that he is a new kid on the block, young, and vibrant and some voters in the general elections will definitely give him a second look and he also has the money advantage. In addition, all the TV cameras and the media attention will focus on him and he can try and pull Brown like upset. My initial take is that the race will surely tighten."

Chris Pinto, Treasurer, Worcester Republican City Committee

Congratulations to Gabriel Gomez. His team did an incredible job raising money. Media matters and both parties saw the top money raisers get the most votes.

Gomez's ads about being a Navy Seal were very effective. His story of being a first generation immigrant and his service to his country are compelling reasons for Republicans to vote for him, but in this heavily Democratic state we have yet to see if the voters will want real change in Washington, or if they will vote for Markey and more of the same old deadlock in D.C.

Robert Boatright, PhD, Associate Professor of Political Science, Clark University

No surprises on the Democratic side. Markey appears to have won among wealthier Democrats, Lynch among less wealthy ones. Markey ran about even in places like Worcester, Fall River, etc. and completely trounced Lynch on the Cape, in the Berkshires, other areas like that. Lynch did less well in Boston than perhaps he should have.

For Republicans, there really wasn't much reliable survey data out there and it appeared Gomez actually had less of an organization in place than the other two, so the real story is how consistent his margins were everywhere in the state. The Republcan race certainly was less close than most people expected.

I still don't get the sense that anyone is paying attention to this race, so it's hard to say what the issues will be. Gomez will try to make an issue of Markey being a career politician, for certain. Markey has a long track record in Congress and has worked well with a lot of liberal groups. Perhaps that will be used against him, but I think it will be hard to portray Markey as a part of the party establishment -- he's done too much on his own for that to work.

The problem for Markey, though, is that he's got sort of a patrician air to him, and the things he's knowledgeable about don't necessarily lend themselves to campaign soundbites. Markey has, for instance, done more to deal with air pollution and developments in communications technology than anyone else in the Massachusetts delegation, but it's hard to explain those things in a campaign without getting into techinical details. It's the sort of thing well-educated liberals might appreciate but I don't know if they'll win the election for him.

Gomez was always going to be the strongest Republican candidate for the general election -- he's charismatic and can try to channel the same forces that helped Scott Brown. Gomez will have Tea Party support but will likely need to appeal to moderates in the general election if he wants to win. Some of that can be done through style, but he'll need to take some issue positions that appeal to Democrats as well.

The real question going forward is whether outside money shows up to help Gomez. If it does, he's got a chance. If it doesn't, I think the edge in a low turnout election goes to the known quantity. It's easy to draw parallels to the 2010 special election here, but Markey has different strengths from Coakley and he has more groups working for him. There were over three times as many votes cast in the Democratic primary, for whatever that's worth. You can't compare that to 2010, since Brown ran unopposed, but I think it's a sign that Gomez will have a harder time than Brown did.

David LeBoeuf, Democratic State Committee member, Chair of the Worcester Ward 6 Democratic Committee

Everyone thought Markey was going to sail to victory but he truly earned it. His Worcester field staff Mark O'Halloran and Martha Assefa were phenomenal and treated this as seriously as the Elizabeth Warren vs. Scott Brown race. It was because of the campaign's volunteers who connected with voters and told them about their stories where Ed stood that this victory was made possible. Lynch had better ads and the I am Stephen Lynch ad was really great for shifting the tone of the race. However delivering Markey's message door to door is what really makes the differences and shows to the voter the willingness of the candidate to develop a strong relationship with constituents.

Gomez winning was not a shock because his campaign was well organized. His campaign did a great job and this is a well deserved win. What Gomez's victory shows is the waning influence of the Tea Party in Massachusetts which I think both Democrats and Republicans can be thankful for. However I am not sure how energizing Gomez will be to the conservative base given that it was the Tea Party that helped to push Brown over the edge the first time.

A Markey vs. Gomez race will be interesting, but it is not going to be a Coakley vs. Brown match up. Markey has a superior ground game. Also, after the energy that was put into defeating Scott Brown the labor community and the progressive community as a whole is not going to take this contest for granted. Markey is not going to take this race for granted and neither is his staff. Many might assume because Gomez is Hispanic that this will change the outcome of the race completely but I disagree. Markey from the beginning has made a consorted effort to reach out to all ethnic groups across the state and has run on an agenda that is inclusive of all demographics. Just stopping down by his Park Ave office in Worcester you'll overhear phone banks going on in multiple languages and individuals representing all wards of the city ready to canvass. Gomez is going to be an interesting opponent because so little is known about where he stands on the issues. Like Lynch he's run on his personality rather than a record. When voters start to really look at where the candidates stand on the issues and how Ed Markey has consistently stood up for working families in the Commonwealth I think the choice will be come clear to voters that Ed should become our next Senator.

Grace Ross, former MA Gubernatorial candidate and GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER

The image of a clear progressive team of US Senators from Massachusetts is no doubt fueling the dancing in the streets by the relatively small number of folks watching this election.

I am more deeply concerned about the VERY low voter turn-out (especially when you subtract out the turn-out bump from the special state senatorial primary in Boston). Compared to the US senate race between Warren and Brown last year - for a seat worth the same in voting power nationally, the lack of engagement with race so far is devastating.

While many want to blame this lack of engagement on the violence at the marathon, the lack of excitement was palpable before that.

In a short race (shortened additionally by the needed break around the bombing and fugitive search), it is too often money that determines the outcome. And while many will point to the Democratic primary and say it was not about money, the Republican primary may put the lie to that - Michael Sullivan brought by far the most relevant experience to the table for the job of a US Senator - he was no where.

And instead of the Democrats building on the massive effort - truly dramatic of the Warren campaign by the end, this race so far has been silent.

That will have to change if Gomez still has deeper pockets to draw on and gets good campaign operatives, if the Democrats want to safely pull this out. Maybe I am wrong about that but with Markey's politics in the more progressive stripe – actually more reflective of Massachusetts citizens' generally politics, it is only the Democrats to lose - and they will have to be careful not to come across as arrogant and unresponsive to the incredibly strong and growing undercurrent of unaddressed populist anger out there.

I don't know, Markey and Gomez may be equally personally wealthy, and I have not interacted with Gomez, but I have heard profound and angry distrust already expressed by people in circles Markey's people are taking for granted. And that was what happened to Coakley in her attempt at the US Senate.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which endorsed Markey, offered the following statement.

This is a win for Massachusetts women and their health. Planned Parenthood Action Fund supporters worked hard to get out the vote for Ed Markey today, because we know how important it is to have another champion of women’s health in the Senate. If elected, Massachusetts can count on Ed Markey to stand up to protect women’s access to health care and to block attacks on Planned Parenthood health centers, access to birth control, and access to safe and legal abortion.


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