Just three years after Scott Brown’s stunning upset in the 2010 Massachusetts special Senate election, the race to fill Secretary of State John Kerry’s old Senate seat is closer than expected. The GOP has managed to field three decent candidates, and Democrats appear prepared to give them an opening by nominating the very liberal Ed Markey, who is serving in his fifth decade in Congress.
While Markey is a fundraising powerhouse, he is viewed favorably by only 39 percent of likely voters. That’s a troublingly low favorability rating for Markey, considering how long he’s been on the scene and how many voters have an opinion of him.
The Republican candidates trail Markey by double digits in the polls, with the closest candidate, Gabriel Gomez, trailing by 15 points. However, the winner of the April 30 Republican primary will have the ability to write his own narrative over the next two months and win over undecided voters.
Of the three Republican candidates, Gomez — a former Navy Seal and businessman — appears to be in the strongest position to defeat Markey. Though Gomez’s poll position is only marginally better than that of the next closest Republican, Michael Sullivan, he has already accumulated over $1 million in fundraising (over half of which he loaned to himself). If the race is close, expect outside money to come pouring in as well. Gomez is also establishing a strong social media presence; he has far more Facebook likes than either of his GOP opponents.
Gomez intends to play his outsider background to the fullest with his “reboot Congress” initiative. He’s proposing term limits, a congressional pay freeze and a balanced budget amendment. Under Gomez’s term limit plan, Markey would have been forced out of office in 1982. The outsider-insider narrative should provide Gomez with plenty of favorable campaign turf.
The other two Republicans, Michael Sullivan and Daniel Winslow, are long-time officeholders. Sullivan served as acting ATF director and Winslow was a member of the Massachusetts state house and a judge.
Ideologically, Gomez appears to mirror Scott Brown on social issues, with Winslow falling to his left and Sullivan to his right. On fiscal issues, the three appear fairly similar, but Gomez and Winslow call for a balanced budget amendment while Sullivan does not.
The one known skeleton in Gomez’s closet is a letter he wrote to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick putting his name forward to serve as an interim senator. The letter could damage Gomez in both the primary and the general election.
Democrats could make things easier for themselves by simply nominating United States Representative Stephen Lynch. While Lynch currently trails Markey by about 10 points in most pre-primary polls, he leads all three Republicans by more than 30 points. Crucially, Lynch leads his potential GOP opponents with independent voters by overwhelming numbers. Without a strong showing among independents, no Republican can win a statewide race in the Bay State.
Brandon J. Gaylord, the editor-in-chief of HorseRacePolitics.com, is a graduate of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. Brandon got his start in politics as an intern in Vice President Richard Cheney’s Office of Political Affairs.