The Benghazi and IRS audit scandals — not to mention a continuing weak economy and the growing problems with Obamacare — could drag down the popularity of the Obama administration. That matters on many levels, including the fact that there is a looming June 25 special election in Oh-So-Blue Massachusetts to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by John Kerry. What if Scott Brown lightning hit twice and a Republican was elected again in the only state carried by George McGovern?
That outcome is not fanciful. A raft of new polls show the lackluster Democratic candidate, 66-year-old Representative Ed Markey, only narrowly ahead of GOP challenger Gabriel Gomez, whose résumé ranges from former Navy SEAL to successful private investor.
An internal Gomez poll shows him trailing by only 46 percent to 43 percent. Independents — who are the key to any victory by a non-Democrat in Massachusetts — have a favorable opinion of Gomez by a margin of 49 percent to 10 percent. The down-the-line liberal Markey is upside down with independents, registering a 44 percent disapproval rating versus only 40 percent who approve. Overall, Gomez has a higher favorability rating right now than former GOP senator Scott Brown did prior to his election.
The Gomez poll is backed up by two others. Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm, shows the race to be too close to call with Markey at 44 percent and Gomez at 40 percent. A WBUR poll shows a six-point margin in Markey’s favor.
Democrats scoff at any suggestion of a Gomez surge. They point out a new Suffolk University poll gives Markey a comfortable 52 percent to 35 percent edge, and that President Obama had a 53 percent approval rating in the PPP poll, a full nine points higher than he had when Scott Brown pulled off his stunning upset in January 2010.
But the approval rating for Obama in the state could be lower come the voting on June 25, and there also could be an enthusiasm gap that will drive anti-Obama voters to the polls while liberal partisans are less inclined to come out on a summer weekday. In addition, college students will be out of school in June — depriving Markey of much of a key demographic base.
No one doubts that Gomez will now be the subject of an unprecedented negative attack campaign by Markey and his allies. But Markey will have a 37-year record in Congress to defend, and one that will not sit well with the 42 percent of voters who did not back him in the Democratic primary and could be open to Gomez’s pitch that he will be an independent senator unbeholden to either party. He has some credibility in that area — in 2008 Gomez actually donated to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama.