Three years ago, a special election to replace Ted Kennedy in the Senate resulted in a surprise winner, Republican Scott Brown, and the near-death of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature health care reform law.
Brown’s win was the work of several elements. In addition to strong skills as a candidate, he had the advantage of Tea Party enthusiasm, anti-Obama fatigue, and a complacent Democratic Party, which fielded Martha Coakley, a weak candidate who compounded her problems by refusing to campaign.
Today, Massachusetts voters—or at least, a small subset of them—will again head to the polls to choose a replacement senator, this time for John Kerry, the long-serving Democrat who joined President Obama’s cabinet as Secretary of State at the beginning of the year. And again, Massachusetts Democrats have chosen a party stalwart to lead the charge—Representative Ed Markey, a 37-year veteran of Congress, who has spent most of his adult life in elected office.
He faces Gabriel Gomez, a businessman and former Navy SEAL who seems to be the second coming of Scott Brown. And indeed, Gomez’s entry into the race was accompanied by warnings that this could be a repeat of 2010, where the Democratic Party failed to grapple with wide anti-incumbent sentiment.
But, if the current polls are any indication, this won’t be a repeat of three years ago. As of yesterday, Markey holds a clear lead in the race. A Suffolk University poll puts him ahead of Gomez by ten points, 52 to 42 percent, while a Western New England University poll shows him with an eight point lead, 49 to 41 percent (with 9 percent undecided). Markey’s strong position is owed to the composition of the Massachusetts electorate—36 percent of voters are registered as Democrats, compared with 11 percent who are registered as Republicans—and his aggressive campaign tactics.
Markey has crisscrossed the state, with support from prominent Democrats like President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, and Senator Elizabeth Warren. He’s maintained a robust ground game, and received huge assistance from Democratic campaign organizations—the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent $700,000 on ads in the state. What’s more, he’s launched his own ad campaign against Gomez, tying him to congressional Republicans and defining him as outside the Massachusetts mainstream.
Gomez had some support from the national Republican Party, but groups like American Crossroads ignored the race, leaving Gomez to fend for himself. For the most part, this has meant a defensive campaign, pushing back against negative claims from the Markey campaign, and hoping for serious mistakes from the Democratic nominee. So far, this plan hasn’t worked out.
Of course, voting still needs to happen, and if Democratic turnout is too low, Gomez could pull out a win. But that’s highly unlikely. When the polls close this evening, Markey should emerge as the next senator from Massachusetts, preserving the Democratic Party’s modest majority in the Senate, and protecting the party’s core legislative concern—comprehensive immigration reform.