Ed Markey defeated Republican Gabriel Gomez in the Massachusetts special U.S. Senate election yesterday, as state Democrats overcame low voter turnout to avert a repeat of an embarrassing loss in a similar race three years ago.
“This election is about your hopes, your dreams, your families, and your future,” Markey told supporters at a victory party in Boston. “I know that and I’m going to remember that.”
Markey led Gomez, 55 percent to 45 percent, with all precincts reporting in an Associated Press tally. First elected to the U.S. House in 1976, Markey will take over the Senate seat Democrat John Kerry gave up early this year to become U.S. secretary of state.
In a special election in January 2010 to fill the Senate seat long occupied by Democrat Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts voters roiled the national political scene by electing Republican Scott Brown. That vote underscored national frustration with government and presaged gains by Republicans in the 2010 midterm election, when they won control of the House of Representatives and picked up Senate seats.
Political analysts said Markey’s victory won’t be viewed as a harbinger for the 2014 midterm election.
“All this does is confirm that Democrats get elected to the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts unless there are extenuating circumstances,” said Nathan Gonzales, a deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, based in Washington.
In next year’s election, Republicans who are counting on gaining Senate seats -- and perhaps achieving a majority -- will be competing on “much less Democratic ground” than in the Bay State, Gonzales said.
Kerry’s seat has been held on an interim basis by Democrat William “Mo” Cowan, a former aide to Governor Deval Patrick. Democrats hold a 54-46 edge in the chamber.
A New Jersey Republican, Jeff Chiesa, is temporarily filling one of his state’s Senate seats following the June 3 death of Democrat Frank Lautenberg. Democrats are favored to regain the seat in an Oct. 16 special election, which would restore their Senate margin to 55-45.
Markey, 66, and his team stressed from the start of the abbreviated Massachusetts campaign that Democrats shouldn’t take for granted their advantages in a state where the party has dominated most elections for decades. Even as public polls showed Markey favored, usually by 10 percent or more, Democratic activists sought to drum up support for him from all corners.
Leading national party figures -- including President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton -- visited the state for Markey to drive home that message. Some of the congressman’s House colleagues, including members from Florida, Ohio and Hawaii, also worked the campaign trail for him.
“Increasingly, the Brown election looks like a blip on the radar screen,” said Peter Ubertaccio, who teaches politics at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. “It is going to take a very particular set of circumstances for Massachusetts to send a Republican to Washington.”
Brown lost his bid for a full six-year Senate term in November to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, at the same time as Obama carried the state by 23 percentage points over former Bay State Governor Mitt Romney. All of the state’s nine House seats remain in Democratic hands; the last Massachusetts Republicans to serve in the chamber both lost re-election races in 1996.
Markey spent $8.6 million on his race through June 5 and had $2.2 million left to spend in the final three weeks of the campaign, according to Federal Election Commission data. Gomez spent $2.3 million through June 5 in the same period and had a little less than $1 million left for his final push.
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-to-1 in Massachusetts. Still, most Bay State voters -- 53 percent -- aren’t affiliated with any party, according to June 5 figures on the Secretary of State’s website.
Gomez, 47 and a political newcomer, focused on courting independents as he depicted Markey as a Washington insider and criticized Obama for scandals plaguing the administration.
“The problem is people up here in Massachusetts automatically distrust D.C.,” Gomez said at a debate last week with Markey. “And why do they distrust D.C.? Because you have career politicians that politicize everything down there.”
A private-equity investment manager with a Harvard Business School degree, Gomez wore an olive-colored bomber-style jacket on the campaign trail to remind voters of his time as a Navy SEAL. As the son of Colombian immigrants, he also sought to appeal to Hispanics, answering a question at one debate entirely in Spanish.
It wasn’t enough to excite voters here or national donors who mostly took a pass on the race, even as Markey’s camp insisted that out-of-state dollars would pour in to help Gomez.
“Republicans are still a little hung over from 2012,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at the Washington-based nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Markey’s television commercials touted his record of supporting abortion rights and stricter gun-control laws, two positions polls showed were in line with views held by most Massachusetts voters. Following a playbook used by Warren’s campaign last year, he also painted Gomez as part of a national Republican machine.
It worked for independent voters like Jane Lampman, of Boston’s South End neighborhood.
“I wasn’t gung-ho for Markey,” she said after marking her ballot for the Democrat today. Still, she said, “I’m not happy with what the Republican Party is doing down in Washington, I didn’t want to send a message that I support what they are doing.”
She was part of a small voter turnout during a heat wave that culminated a campaign overshadowed by other news in Massachusetts, including the National Hockey League championship series played by the Boston Bruins, the murder trial of former mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger, and the aftermath of the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon.
Less than 1.2 million ballots were cast -- barely more 25 percent of those registered to vote. In the 2010 special election about 2.3 million voters participated during the dead of winter. Last November’s general election drew 3.1 million to the polls.
Markey will face voters again in the 2014 election should he seek a full term. Strategists said he should spend the intervening months meeting with voters to solidify his political standing.
“Go around the state between now and then,” said Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic strategist with the Dewey Square Group in Boston, who didn’t work for the Markey campaign. “Give people the opportunity to meet him in a more informal setting where he is relaxed and at his best.”
Gomez, though defeated, is unlikely to leave the Massachusetts stage, Marsh said. She noted that his commercials -- particularly the final one that highlighted his performance in last week’s debate -- were positive and focused on issues.
“There were not bridges burned here,” she said. “That is the hallmark for somebody who wants options.”
In his concession speech in Boston, Gomez said, “I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything I’ve done in my life.”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a statement shortly after he finished his speech that hinted at a rematch. “Today marks the end of the first mile in the marathon to permanently fill the Massachusetts Senate seat,” said committee Chairman Jerry Moran, a U.S. senator from Kansas. “Gabriel Gomez is well prepared to win that marathon over the next 16 months.”
The Markey victory sets in motion another special election in Massachusetts -- for his House seat, mostly made up of suburbs north and west of Boston. It must be called 145 to 160 days after Markey resigns from the post, which will remain vacant until the vote, according to state law.
Markey has had his eye on joining the Senate for almost three decades. He briefly sought the seat won by Kerry in 1984. Markey also considered running in the 2010 special election before taking a pass.
His win yesterday made history -- he becomes the longest-serving House member to move over to the Senate, according to the Senate Historical Office.
Biden, at a June 22 campaign event in Massachusetts, alluded to Markey’s experience: “This is going to be the most informed freshman senator in the history of the United States of America.”