Massachusetts voters will fill Secretary of State John Kerry’s Senate seat on June 25. The choices couldn’t be more of a contrast. Democrat Ed Markey is a 66-year-old liberal who was first elected to Congress in 1976, when eight-track tapes were the rage. Republican Gabriel Gomez, is a 47-year-old with an MBA from Harvard, who is the son of Columbian immigrants and a former Navy SEAL. He raised $1.2 million in yesterday’s GOP primary, which enabled him to buy TV ads that led to an upset 51 percent to 36 percent victory over Michael Sullivan, a conservative former district attorney.
Massachusetts is a deeply blue state but surprises can happen in elections that don’t feature presidential levels of voter turnout. Four of the last six governors have been Republicans, and in 2010 Scott Brown shook the political world with his upset special-election victory. He went on to lose his reelection bid in 2012, as Barack Obama swept the state.
Democrats clearly want to avoid a repeat of Scott Brown. “Gabriel Gomez is a pro-life Republican who was the spokesman for a ‘super PAC’ that attacked President Obama over the killing of Osama bin Laden,” read an instant attack statement sent out by the Markey campaign.
In truth, Gomez is a political moderate. A private-equity investor, he contributed to President Obama’s 2008 campaign. He is personally opposed to abortion, but accepts federal law on the issue as settled. He favors background checks on gun purchases, but opposes a ban on so-called assault weapons. He rails against big government, but is vague on what federal programs should be trimmed. He could appeal to many independent voters who backed Representative Stephen Lynch, who ran against Markey in the Democratic primary. Lynch, who opposes abortion and voted against Obamacare, nonetheless won 42 percent of the vote against Markey. He won 70 percent of the vote in his blue-collar district south of Boston and also carried areas around working-class Worcester.
“Gomez’s upset victory suddenly changes the dynamics of the general election significantly,” Lou DiNatale, a veteran Democratic strategist, told the Boston Globe. Even Tad Devine, a longtime Democratic consultant in Washington, admitted that “on paper, [Gomez] may be very attractive.”
You can expect the Democratic machine in the state to throw all they can at Gomez in order to avoid another Scott Brown-like upset. But turnout is expected to be low, and many college students will be out of state in June. Markey’s signature issue of passing regulations to address global warming isn’t as popular as it once was. Debates between Markey and Gomez could present a vivid contrast between the old and the new. Two months is a long time, so even in liberal Massachusetts don’t conclude a surprise isn’t possible.