President Barack Obama campaigned for Democrat Edward Markey in the U.S. Senate special election in Massachusetts, telling supporters in Boston that the veteran lawmaker will continue the state’s legacy of sending “tough” and “smart” leaders to Washington.
Markey, who’s served for 36 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, is running against Republican investor Gabriel Gomez in a special election on June 25 to fill the seat formerly held by Democrat John Kerry, now secretary of state.
Obama said Markey is in the mold of Kerry and the late Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy.
“The history of senators from Massachusetts is they fight for people,” Obama said today at a rally at Roxbury Community College. “They’re not scared of the special interests.”
“Ed’s one of you,” Obama said.
Obama spent the day focused on politics as the president seeks to bolster Democratic chances in Massachusetts as well as the 2014 congressional elections. From Boston, Obama flew to Miami to be the headline speaker at two fundraisers benefiting the Democratic National Committee.
The first event, with about 50 supporters, was hosted by Tom Sullivan of Miami Beach, the founder of retail flooring firm Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc. (LL) The second, with about 175 contributors, was hosted by businessman and philanthropist Joseph W. Blount, also of Miami Beach, who contributed more than $200,000 to various candidates and committees last year.
Ticket costs ranged from $1,000 for a general reception to as much as $32,400 for a more elaborate affair.
The president appealed for a Democratic House and the retention of a Democratic Senate, noting at the Sullivan event that he was “not getting much cooperation” from Republicans on his agenda. A Democratic Congress, he said, would allow for the appointment of federal judges and help advance programs to improve education, boost technology and handle climate change.
“It can be done,” he said.
In Massachusetts, Obama was seeking to avoid repeating the 2010 surprise when Republican Scott Brown captured the Senate seat long held by Kennedy in a Democratic-leaning state.
“Obama cannot afford another Scott Brown, especially not at this time,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “It would be a huge embarrassment to Obama if Markey were to lose because it would be seen as a referendum on the president at a time that he is under fire from all sides on the secrecy and eavesdropping controversies.”
Because fewer voters go to the polls in special elections, Obama pleaded for supporters to turn out and to engage with the “same passion” that they did in the 2012 general election.
“You’ve got some work to do in 2013,” he said in Massachusetts. “I need you knocking on some doors.”
At stake for the president is his second-term agenda, including passing immigration legislation, reaching a budget deal and proposals on issues such as pre-school education and climate change.
In Miami and at the other 2014 fundraisers he’s attended, Obama has made the argument that a Democratic majority in Congress is the party’s best chance to thwart Republicans determined to block his agenda.
Democrats need to gain 17 seats to recapture control of the House next year, an uphill climb considering that the president’s party typically loses seats during the sixth year in office.
Democrats narrowly control the Senate 54-46 after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appointed a Republican to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat. If Republicans hold that seat in a special election in October, they would have to win five more seats in the 2014 elections to seize control of the chamber.
A Suffolk University poll released June 10 showed Markey’s lead has narrowed. He’s now favored 48 percent to Gomez’s 41 percent. In the last Suffolk poll on May 9, Markey had a 17 point lead. Another poll by WBUR in Boston released yesterday showed Markey leading Gomez 46 percent to 39 percent.
The Suffolk University poll showed Obama’s job approval rating in the state at 57 percent, down from 63 percent in mid-May. The survey of 500 likely voters conducted June 6 to June 9 had an error margin of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
“While President Obama remains popular, he struggles to maintain the voters’ trust in the wake of the three controversies” involving the Internal Revenue Service, the Benghazi attack and the seizure of Associated Press telephone records, Suffolk University said in a statement on the poll.
The president can’t afford to lose Markey, a reliable Democratic vote.
“I don’t think that the president’s visit is a sign of concern on the part of the Markey campaign,” Baker said. “I think it’s more a case of avoiding the question ‘Why hasn’t the president put in an appearance.’”
Vice President Joe Biden, joined by former Democratic Vice President Al Gore, helped raise about $250,000 for Markey at a Washington fundraiser yesterday, according to a pool report, citing the Markey campaign. Markey himself wasn’t there. He was taking part in the second of three debates with Gomez.
Gomez stepped down from his position as a principal in Advent International Corp., a Boston-based private equity firm. He’s a former Navy SEAL with no political experience and has been using his Latino heritage and fluency in Spanish as a bridge to voters.
Both candidates support an overhaul of immigration laws. From there, the views diverge.
Markey supports a nationwide ban on assault weapons that Gomez opposes. Gomez backs a no-fly zone over Syria while Markey has opposed it. Gomez said he’d consider voting for an antiabortion-rights Supreme Court justice. Markey wouldn’t. In a debate last night, they sparred again over assault weapons while they agreed that the minimum wage should be raised to $10 an hour and that the mortgage-interest tax deduction should be preserved.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani have campaigned with Gomez. Though he’s a Republican, Gomez has acknowledged that he gave money to the Obama campaign during the 2008 election cycle.
Still, he chided Markey for seeking Obama’s appearance.
“While my opponent Congressman Markey is depending on the national Democratic machine in Washington, I’m depending on people of Massachusetts -- veterans, first responders, law enforcement, and others who live their lives putting people before party and politics,” Gomez said in a statement.
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