(Updates with vote totals, starting in second paragraph.)
By Annie Linskey
April 30 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Representative Ed Markey won the Democratic nomination for a Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat in a contest overshadowed by recent bombings in Boston.
Markey, 66, led House colleague Stephen Lynch in the primary race, 57 percent to 43 percent, with 97 percent of precincts reporting in today’s primary, according to the Associated Press tally.
Markey will face Republican businessman Gabriel Gomez, 47, who won his party’s three-person primary. With 97 percent of the precincts reporting in that race, the AP count showed Gomez with 51 percent of the vote to 36 percent for former federal prosecutor Michael Sullivan, 58, and 13 percent for state Representative Daniel Winslow, 54.
The special election for the Senate seat is scheduled for June 25.
With registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans by 3-to-1 in Massachusetts, Markey is the favorite heading into the vote. All statewide-elected officials are Democrats -- including U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who won her seat last November -- as are the nine members of the House delegation.
Still, more than half of those on the Massachusetts voting rolls are unaffiliated. These voters could participate in either party’s primary. Turnout in the Democratic race exceeded 520,000, while more than 180,000 votes were cast in the Republican contest.
Democrats will be seeking in the special election to maintain their 55-45 voting advantage over Republicans in the Senate.
Markey, the dean of the Massachusetts congressional delegation after 36 years in office, stressed to primary voters his record of support for gay marriage, votes for women’s reproductive rights and battles with the National Rifle Association, the country’s largest gun lobby.
The message from his camp: A vote for Markey was a vote for President Barack Obama’s agenda. The congressman also took on the establishment mantle, picking up early support from former senator and now Secretary of State John Kerry, whose seat he is seeking to fill, and Victoria Kennedy, the wife of the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat.
Veterans of the Obama and Warren campaigns filled the ranks of Markey’s paid staff and volunteer ranks. At a recent Markey “Get Out the Vote” rally in Boston attended by hundreds, almost every person in the room stood up when Markey’s field director, Carl Nilsson, asked if they’d previously worked on one of those two campaigns.
Markey, from the Boston suburb of Malden, will now focus on rallying to his side “lunch pail” Democrats -- middle-income families and union households -- who dominated Lynch’s base and may be tempted to vote for a Republican in the general election, said David Paleologos, the director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston.
“Markey needs Steve Lynch to be his biggest ally, and even then he still risks losing votes,” Paleologos said.
Lynch, 58, in his campaign played up his independent streak and roots in South Boston’s public-housing projects. The 11-year congressman introduced himself to other parts of the state with television commercials in which a construction worker, a student taking night-time college courses and welder look into the camera and say: “I am Stephen Lynch.”
The commercials struck a chord. While on a small business tour of Lawrence, the state’s poorest city, Christian Gabin, 26, approached Lynch as if he were a Hollywood celebrity and recited the ads.
“He grew up in the public housing just like I did,” Gabin said, explaining his enthusiasm. “It is like one of our own is out there.”
Effect of Bombing
In the primary campaign’s final stretch, a pair of bombs exploded on April 15 near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring more than 260 people.
All of the campaigns pulled television commercials and canceled fundraisers and door knocking. A debate between Markey and Lynch was postponed.
“It froze everything in place,” said Peter Ubertaccio, the chairman of the political science department at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. “With Lynch unable to campaign, Markey maintained his front-runner status.”
When the Democratic candidates went back out on the trail on April 22, Lynch showed a feisty side that had been absent for much of the race -- accusing Markey of failing to support a joint terrorism task force instrumental in tracking the two suspects in the bombings. One, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is in custody, while his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died in a shootout with law officers in Watertown, Massachusetts.
Markey’s camp dismissed the charge, and the final attacks weren’t enough to propel Lynch, who trailed in public-opinion polls, to an upset victory. He was forced to miss most of his scheduled campaign appearances yesterday and today because of a stomach illness and the loss of his voice, said Conor Yunits, a Lynch spokesman.
Even with the state’s Democratic tilt, Massachusetts voters sent shock waves through the national political landscape in January 2010 when voters picked Republican Scott Brown in a special election to fill the seat long held by Kennedy. Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley.
Brown, 53, lost his bid for a full six-year term in last year’s general election to Warren, 63.
Kerry, who first won his Senate seat in 1984 and was the unsuccessful Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, won confirmation in late January from fellow senators to serve as secretary of state. Democrat William “Mo” Cowan, one-time chief of staff to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, was appointed by his former boss to replace Kerry in the Senate on an interim basis.