By last week, the already truncated campaign season to fill John Kerry’s recently vacated Senate seat was beginning to feel shorter by the moment, as the GOP struggled to find a candidate to compete in the June 25 special election. Indeed, as the Republicans apparently gathered to draw straws to see who’d be stuck with the task, it seemed more and more likely that the April 30 Democratic primary would decide the race.
“Basically, the Republican party is left with nobody,” Ken Rudin, NPR’s “political junkie,” said during a discussion of the Massachusetts Senate race on Talk of the Nation last week, a few days before state Rep. Dan Winslow of Norfolk (and, it should be noted, a Valley native) finally broke the GOP standoff and announced his candidacy. Winslow, who served as Mitt Romney’s chief legal counsel when Romney was governor of Massachusetts, bills himself as a “problem solver and fiscal conservative.”
Rudin was referring to the ever-lengthening list of Republicans who’d opted not to run—starting, of course, with former Sen. Scott Brown, who decided against trying to reclaim the seat he just lost to Elizabeth Warren, instead, apparently, focusing his attention on a potential gig on Fox News, and, according to speculation, on a 2014 gubernatorial campaign. The next marquee name to drop out: William Weld, the former governor who’s back in the Bay State after a stint in New York.
For a few days, at least, it looked as if the Republicans might wind up with a candidate who had some of Brown’s crossover appeal: Richard Tisei, the former state legislator who lost a squeaker of a race in Massachusetts’ 6th Congressional district in November, and whose moderate stances make him the kind of Republican that Massachusetts voters don’t mind so much.
Tisei, however, decided against running. So did former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey and former gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker. Then there was Tagg Romney’s flirtation with running, a prospect that was both brief and inexplicable (the Romney name doesn’t exactly have the same cachet in Massachusetts as, say, “Kennedy,” as demonstrated by the rather poor showing posted in November’s presidential election by Tagg’s dad).
At deadline, two other Republican names were also being discussed as potential candidates alongside Winslow: Gabriel Gomez of Cohasset, an Iraq war veteran who last year worked with a group critical of Obama’s national security record, and state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester.
Rudin, the NPR pundit, dismissed Winslow and Gomez as “completely unknown”; Tarr didn’t even make it on to his radar. That might not have been the most polite description—and certainly the three have more name recognition in Massachusetts than in NPR’s Washington offices—but it underscored the considerable challenges each would face in a general election against the winner of the Democratic primary.
The two candidates competing in that race, Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch, are U.S. Congressmen, and have both the high profiles and big campaign war chests that state legislators from the minority party can only dream about. True, Scott Brown was a mere state legislator when he won his Senate seat in 2010 against a somewhat hapless Martha Coakley. But Massachusetts Democrats are hell-bent on avoiding that kind of humiliation again—and they’re also buoyed by Warren’s hard-fought victory over Brown in November.
As the Republicans scrambled to find their candidate, Massachusetts political junkies had already begun to occupy themselves by focusing on the Markey/Lynch race—a match-up that has its own intriguing narrative. Markey, who jumped into the race first, quickly sewed up endorsements from big-name Democrats, including Coakley, former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank and House Speaker Robert DeLeo.
Markey runs the risk of being cast as the “establishment” candidate, although his generally progressive voting record, and the support he’s won from progressive groups, should temper that.
Lynch, meanwhile, is assuming the role of “regular-guy” candidate (case in point: he kicked off his campaign at O’Brien’s Corner, a neighborhood joint in Springfield; when Markey’s campaign came to the city, it was to the more upscale Student Prince, a favorite hangout for Springfield pols). Lynch will be hampered in a statewide race by his conservative positions on abortion and gay rights (although on those positions, the candidate now appears to be, to borrow a phrase from Obama, “evolving”).
A former iron worker, Lynch should also expect strong support from organized labor, which might not have the numbers it once did but can still be a force in Massachusetts elections.