Following the appointment of former senator John Kerry to the position of Secretary of State, Massachusetts is set to hold a special election primary on Tuesday for the second time in three years. Current polls suggest a clear leader in the Democratic primary, while the Republican favorite is yet to be determined.
Representatives Stephen Lynch and Edward Markey will be the two choices on the Democratic ballot, and having both served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 11 and 37 years respectively, they offer Massachusetts Democrats two fairly standard, yet experienced, candidates to choose from.
Former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, state representative Daniel Winslow of Massachusetts’ 9th district, and former Navy SEAL turned private equity investor Gabriel Gomez will be reaching out to the state’s conservative voters for a chance at the open Senate seat.
Anything is possible, but recent polls have revealed this race to be pretty much decided on the Democratic side. According to a Suffolk University/7NEWS (WHDH-Boston) poll conducted from April 25-28 in three Massachusetts communities chosen for their history of resembling statewide Democratic outcomes in past elections, Representative Markey was leading all polls with well over 50 percent of the vote.
According the same poll in areas that closely resembled past Republican outcomes, the results weren’t as clear-cut. In Boston, Republican voters were evenly split between Sullivan and Gomez, whereas in Shrewsbury, a community only one hour west of Boston, gave Gomez a 24-point lead over the other two candidates.
Sullivan, who was appointed as U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts by George W. Bush — although he fails to mention that on his campaign website — was recently endorsed by a Tea Party group, the Conservative Campaign Committee. While Sullivan appeals to a small group of steadfast conservatives across the state, the likelihood of him winning a primary in Massachusetts is narrow, particularly when up against Winslow and Gomez, who represent a more moderate demographic — fiscally conservative, yet fairly liberal on social issues. Both of his opponents criticized Sullivan’s connection to the conservative group. Winslow said in a statement, “What is surprising is Mike Sullivan’s continued silence when asked repeatedly to disavow the support of such groups. He can no longer claim ignorance of their views. If he cares about Republican electability in June, he will end his silence and speak up for decency and tolerance.”
Despite poll results, all eyes have been on Gomez as an impressive candidate and potential future star of the Republican Party. He has taken on the “average Joe” persona of the election, campaigning as the everyday citizen aspiring to take on and change Capitol Hill bureaucracy—the divergent option from the usual career politicians who are so prevalent in this race.
Gomez, who is of Colombian descent, is a military success story and profitable investor who could prove to be an energizing superstar for the Republican Party. As a Scott Brown/Marco Rubio type of candidate, he has the potential to appeal to the disenchanted voters who have had enough of Washington politics, while mobilizing minority voters in Massachusetts—that is, if the Republican base can look past his relatively progressive stances on background checks, climate change, immigration, a woman’s right to choose and marriage equality, and his willingness to reach across the aisle and cooperate with Democratic lawmakers.
In a letter to Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick requesting to serve as the state’s interim senator after Kerry’s cabinet appointment, Gomez highlighted this readiness to reach across the aisle, even supporting national candidates outside his party. “However, given the partisan and acrimonious atmosphere in the U.S. Senate today, this is even more of a reason to consider appointing a moderate Republican with my background, Gomez wrote. “I supported President Obama in 2008. I strongly believe this appointment would be good for the Democrats as well since it is in everyone’s interest to have two parties at the table negotiating.”
A UMass Lowell/Boston Herald poll conducted in early March matched both Democratic candidates with each Republican contender. While Markey, the more liberal of the two, leads Lynch by nearly 30 points, both candidates come out ahead of Sullivan, Winslow, and Gomez—giving Democrats the ultimate advantage.
As Massachusetts voters have recently seen, regardless of how conservative a Republican candidate may be, he or she should never be discounted. Prior to the 2010 general election, the thought of a Tea Party-endorsed candidate filling the late Ted Kennedy’s seat seemed entirely implausible, yet Scott Brown became the first Republican to win a Massachusetts Senate seat in over 30 years.
The special election to fill the seat alongside Elizabeth Warren is set for June 25, and while most expect a Markey-Gomez matchup, anything can happen—particularly on the slightly more vulnerable Republican ticket. But whatever Tuesday’s results, the GOP winner probably shouldn’t spend too much time celebrating if he expects to have any chance of winning the June election.
AP Photo/Steven Senne