Sunday, June 23, 2013

Massachusetts U.S. Senate Special Election

Massachusetts U.S. Senate

Status: Democrat Open

2012 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Prediction: Leans Democrat

Tomorrow, the people of the Bay State will largely be focused on whether or not their Boston Bruins will be able to hang on win Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, or if the mighty Chicago Blackhawks will hoist the historic trophy on their home ice. The next day, the people of the Commonwealth are expected to elect a new United States Senator, although that probably is far down the list of priorities. The Stanley Cup Final is not expected to have any outcome on next week's election. As a Republican and a Blackhawks fan, I probably cannot hope the people of Massachusetts will be so upset, they will vote to punish the party of Chicago's Barack Obama.

A special election for this seat is necessary because longtime Senator John Kerry is now the U.S. Secretary of State. His term would have ended after next year, and the regular election will occur next November. Kerry has finally gotten his wish to move on from beyond the Senate, but the special election itself is a bit of a legacy to his ambition. In the last decade, when Kerry ran for President, Massachusetts had a Republican Governor (one I am quite fond of), and the overwhelmingly Democrat legislature put through a new law to mandate a quick special election, rather than seeing a Republican be appointed to the seat.

Kerry was defeated in the 2004 Presidential election however, but the machinations of the Democrats came back to hurt them in 2010. By the time Senator Ted Kennedy passed away, Massachusetts had a Democrat Governor, but the party was unable to escape their own special election law, and in a shocking upset, Republican Scott Brown took Kennedy's seat in the very liberal state. During all the hassling over the special election process, a precedent was set for Governor Deval Patrick appointing a "caretaker" Democrat Senator to the seat who would not run in the special election. When the Kerry vacancy came about, Patrick appointed a longtime associate, attorney William "Mo" Cowan  to the U.S. Senate. Cowan, who along with a black Republican who was appointed to fill another Senate vacancy elsewhere, are the only two African-Americans currently in the Senate, but it was always a given that Cowan would just be there temporarily, and would have a nice entry for his resume.

Both parties had many potential candidates for this special election. Considering what had happened in 2010, resulting in a GOP upset, Republicans were hopeful they could take advantage of a similar freaky circumstance and pick up a seat, while Democrats were intent on not seeing such a thing happen again in a state that has otherwise seen only Democrats win statewide for over a decade now.

Even before Kerry received an expected nomination to become Secretary of State, many believed that the loser of the closely contested 2012 Senate contest between Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren would somehow be the favorite to take the state's other seat in a special election, assuming Obama would be reelected and tap Kerry. A Presidential election year in the overwhelmingly Democrat state was not enough to allow Brown to win a full term, as he was defeated by Warren, while remaining personally popular.

With that in mind, many people felt this special election opportunity would be tailor made for a Brown comeback,and polling data indicated he certainly would stand a good chance of a quick return to the Senate. However, Brown disappointed many Republicans around the country by opting not to run, citing the fact that he had just endured a long stretch of difficult campaigns. Whether Brown found the money he could make in the private sector more appealing or if he is instead biding his time for a potentially easier 2014 run in the state for Governor will remain to be seen, but Brown was out and Democrats were relieved. They felt the same way when the state's moderate to liberal former GOP Governor Bill Weld (who later would seek the same office in New York) also took himself out of consideration.

Thus, the GOP nominee would be someone from the "B list" and Democrats immediately became overwhelmingly favored to hold this seat. A couple other credible Republicans entered the special primary, but they were easily beaten in the end by a previously little known Republican named Gabriel Gomez.

A young looking former Navy SEAL and businessman, Gomez had initially written a letter to Governor Patrick asking to be appointed to Kerry's seat in a spirit of bi-partisanship. Gomez wrote that he was a moderate Republican who had supported Obama's election in 2008 and who agreed with the Democrat in the White House on some key matters. Needless to say, Gomez never really had a shot on winning a Senate appointment, and considering the way he went about trying to get it, it is somewhat surprising that he managed to win the GOP primary this year. However, his personal story of being the child of South American immigrants, along with his military and business backgrounds led many to believe that he could possibly be another Scott Brown. The fact that Gomez had finished the Boston Marathon shortly before terror disrupted the event not long before the primary also helped him peak at the right time, and he became the Republican nominee.

On the Democrat side, two Congressmen squared off for the right to get a promotion to the U.S. Senate. The loser of the primary would not have to worry about having to give up their House seat as they would in a special election. Throughout that primary campaign though, the frontrunner was 37-year Congressional veteran Ed Markey, a staunch liberal who had long wanted to move up to the Senate. He defeated colleague Stephen Lynch, a more culturally conservative Democrat, whom polls showed ran stronger against the Republican candidates in the general election.

After the primary, Markey was considered the favorite over Gomez. It is still Massachusetts after all, but polling indicated that the race could be pretty close, and some early ones had it as a dead heat. The generational differences and backgrounds between the two candidates were quite stark. Gomez would hammer away throughout the campaign that Markey was a creature of Washington D.C., who had rarely returned to Massachusetts and had little to show for all the decades he was on Capitol Hill.

Markey, who had not faced a competitive election for decades before entering this race, has done his best to try to tie the moderate Gomez to national Republicans. The fact that Markey is a Democrat may indeed be enough for him to win in Massachusetts, especially since his campaign and many others in the party have so heavily outspent Gomez and the Republicans in this race. Democrats were intent on not seeing the embarrassment of the Brown win re-visited, while Republican donors were circumspect on their ability to win the race and a little suspect perhaps of Gomez.

In many ways, Gomez has had a lot of material to use against Markey in this race, but while he has performed reasonably well as a first-time candidate, he has not proven himself to be on par with Scott Brown. Gomez committed a few gaffes in the first general election debate that received a lot of attention, but reportedly was far improved and might have even scored some points against Markey in their most recent encounter.

The most recent polls on this race all show Markey ahead, but by varying figures. Some give him a huge lead, indicating that Tuesday's results may even produce a landslide victory. Others, including numbers provided by the Gomez campaign, show a closer more competitive race. With that in mind, and considering the often unpredictable nature of low-turnout special elections, I am willing to say at this point that the race "Leans" towards Markey. When all is said and done, he could win quite comfortably though. However, it would be an even bigger upset than what happened in 2010 if Gomez somehow winds up the winner next week.

After the special election, Markey is likely to change Capitol Hill offices after 37  years, and his safely Democrat House seat will be vacant for a few months. Gomez is likely to continue his efforts and is most likely to once again face Markey next year, but incumbency and a more traditional electorate in the state will only make it tougher to beat the Democrat.

Nonetheless, Gomez will have gained a lot of name recognition and valuable political experience from all this and political watchers probably will not have heard the last out of him. Republicans in Massachusetts and  around the country are currently left wondering what might have been if only Scott Brown were the one on the ballot against Markey.

Gomez campaign link: