President Obama, Vice President Biden, and former President Bill Clinton have all agreed to appear in the closing days of the Massachusetts Senate race on behalf of Rep. Ed Markey, the Democratic candidate.
The Democrat’s most potent political artillery are coming for a reason; an expected easy victory by Markey is not materializing as polls consistently show the Republican candidate, former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez within a few percentage points of the Democrat.
Markey may be outspending Gomez, but he is not out-hustling him. The Republican has showed up at an astonishing 50 events in the 45 days since April 30.
But Gomez still faces a daunting task; how to overcome the massive registration advantage for Democrats in the state, while raising enough money for a final big push next weekend in advance of the June 25 special election:
Nearly every poll of the race, including two released this week, give Markey just a single-digit lead over Gomez, stoking those fears with hard data.
Tufts University Professor of Political Science Jeffrey Berry said Gomez needs, ultimately, to get independents excited for his bid, because neither candidate has really ignited any passion in their supporters.
“The emphasis in the Gomez campaign has been on character, because the issues favor Democrats,” he said. “Gomez needs to create some excitement about his personal story among independents here.”
Gomez spokesman Will Ritter said the campaign plans to do just that, launching a series of town halls throughout the state to meet voters over the next week.
He said that if the campaign can get out their message, they’re confident they can take the seat.
“We need to be able to make our case for Gabriel Gomez to independent voters in Massachusetts. Ed Markey has decided that he is going to tailor his message to scare independents and excite the far Left,” Ritter said.
“We’re going to have to combat that by portraying Gomez as an outsider, Navy SEAL businessman, going up against an insider, hyper-partisan guy who couldn’t possibly change Washington.”
As Massachusetts GOP strategist Ryan Williams, a former Mitt Romney campaign staffer, explained, the outsider message is one that works in Massachusetts.
“It’s the message that the Republican gubernatorial candidates used over the years. We’ve had people who ran as outsiders versus the insider machine on Beacon Hill. To highlight the contrast between his record as a Navy SEAL and a businessman, and Markey being a career politician, is the right strategy,” he said.
But spreading that message may come down to funding, something Gomez has struggled to obtain throughout his campaign.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee appears to have funneled money to the state GOP to back a sizeable buy for Gomez earlier in the campaign, but thus far only one outside spending group — a mysterious group that bills itself as moderate and was registered with the FEC earlier this month — has gone on air for Gomez.
Republicans are still hopeful they’ll see an influx of outside help, but concede any groups would have to buy this weekend or early next week to make a difference.
But Markey has his own problems:
A Gomez victory would not be unprecedented.
In 2010, Brown was a little known state senator who won a special election race for the long-held Democratic senate seat of Sen. Ted Kennedy.
An averaging of polls by the website RealClearPolitics has Markey leading by 9 percentage points.
Democratic strategist Ben Tulchin argues Markey leads in almost every poll, including one by 11 points, and the poll in which Gomez trails by just 1 percentage point was done by a Republican-leaning firm.
Still, he recognizes the challenges, including the likelihood of a low voter turnout in a special election, particularly this time when people are otherwise occupied in the summer.
“When you have a lower turnout special, Democrats lose their edge quite a bit,” said Tulchin, founder of San Francisco-based Tulchin Research. “And while Massachusetts might be considered a heavily Democratic state, it has a lot of older, white, blue-color workers. It’s never as easy as it looks.”
I don’t exactly know why but it seems there is less interest in Gomez’s candidacy than in Scott Brown’s run. While it’s true neither one could win a Republican primary in most other states, Gomez is one of the most impressive GOP candidates to come out of Massachusetts in a while. It could be that the big outside money is not coming his way because he is given a very small chance of success. It certainly isn’t because he is a lackluster candidate.
The Brown special election was held in the dead of winter with a Democratic candidate who managed to annoy just about everyone in the state. This one will be held during the summer with a state Democratic icon running. While turnout will be unpredictable, Markey is no Martha Coakley and barring a major gaffe, or a last minute surge of cash for Gomez, he should win the special election by a fairly comfortable margin.