Democrats remain haunted by the GOP’s 2010 Senate special election victory. Then state senator Scott Brown rode a wave to defeat Attorney General Martha Coakley. This time around Democrats vow a different result and their candidate has the name ID and money to do it. Congressman Edward Markey has been in the US House of Representatives since the 70’s and has not faced a difficult race in decades. He beat a more conservative Democrat in the primary and came out relatively unscathed. On the GOP side a three candidate primary produced a near Scott Brown rerun. Gabriel Gomez, a former Navy Seal has the wow factor that Scott Brown did. But to win this race he may need something more.
Until recently national Republicans remained unsold on Gomez. Despite his down-home speaking style and military record they had not seen any data stating he had a shot. That is until recently. A new poll taken by PPP showed Markey up by a mere 4 points, 44%-40%, while a Gomez campaign poll found him down 46%-43%. This has given national Republicans a feeling they can play in this race. Gomez has already contributed close to $600,000 of his own money in the campaign and he truly needs this outside support to be viable. Markey on the other hand is sitting on over $3 million in cash he has yet to use to define his opponent.
Republicans hope that Gomez can be the Scott Brown of 2013. Brown not only was a terrific and dedicated campaigner but he also appealed to moderates in the state and conservatives nationwide. Like Brown, Gomez has already shown a willingness to buck standard GOP orthodoxy. While he opposes limits on campaign finance and says he is a fiscal conservative he also supports gay marriage and abortion. If ever another Republican were to win a statewide race in the state this is the script they likely must follow.
Whereas Brown ran at a time when the President was unpopular and the Democratic brand in deep-blue Massachusetts was tainted Gomez has no such luck. His saving grace may be in how liberal Markey is. In the most recent PPP survey more voters called Gomez ideologically right for the state and Markey to liberal for the state. Indeed, Markey has been safely ensconced in his district since he won a special election in 1979. However, Gomez is just as raw a candidate as Markey is the dean of the Massachusetts congressional delegation.
Gomez’s rawness on the stump shows. He laces his talks to voters with profanities and uses the word “like” more than many other candidates. On the other hand it seems to play well with voters or at last certain kinds of voters. In surveys Gomez wins voters in the Southern tip of the state and the Boston suburbs. However, he looses big in metro Boston and the Eastern potion of the state.
Few Republicans have won statewide in recent decades in the state. These Republicans were Weld, Cellucci, Romney and Brown. Each cultivated a unique base of support for their victory. Weld ran as a decidedly progressive Republican, even for the 90’s, and actually out-lefted his Democratic opponents. This allowed Weld to win the Boston suburbs and get cross-over voters. Cellucci, on the other hand, ran as a populist champion and won Southern Massachusetts as well as many conservative independents in two elections. Romney won on the same base of support as Weld. Brown’s support was the broadest in terms of the coalition he held. He won conservative and moderate independents in the suburbs, conservatives in Southern Massachusetts and cross-over voters in Western Massachusetts.
For Gomez to win he likely has to cultivate one of these three bases of support. Brown’s support seems the easiest to follow for the candidate. Afterall, unlike Weld Gomez does not support gun control, putting him at odds with many voters in metro Boston and Western Massachusetts. Gomez is not a populist like Cellucci which appeals more to downscale white voters. Instead, his ideology and views better match up with Brown and his base of support and in surveys Gomez’s support closely matches Brown’s.
The problem for Gomez is that he is not winning Independents by the two-one margin Brown did and he also is winning fewer Democrats. The electorate is also likely to be more liberal than what Brown faced thanks to national Democrats and Markey campaign efforts to mobilize their supporters. Gomez, for his part, has played the part of the happy warrior in much the way Brown did. It helped explain how Brown won in 2010 and cultivated such a broad base of support. But whether it is enough remains to be seen.
Republicans are downplaying the results. They expect Gomez to play but not to win. Democrats seem to be expecting a Markey win. But they also expected a Coakley win in 2010 as well. Despite the differences between 2010 and this election there remain similarities. An experienced, insider Democrat facing a novice, not well-known Republican. Democrats expecting a win and the GOP a loss or close loss. The largest unknown in the race is the President. In the state Obama currently sits at 55%-60% approval. When Brown won in 2010 Obama was at or under 50% approval. Perhaps the recent scandals involving Bengahzi, the IRS and the AP/Fox News will drag down Obama’s approval and make voters support Gomez to send a message to the White House. Gomez if he won would be up for a full term in 2014. Only time will tell but right now the smart money is on a close Markey win.