In The Arena

In the Arena: Handicapping the Senate race

Those who have been whining about not having a choice at election time should be thrilled by this year’s special election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by John Kerry.

There may not be two more different candidates than Democrat Ed Markey and Republican Gabriel Gomez. In fact, the last time Massachusetts voters had this clear a choice was two years ago, when Attorney General Martha Coakley went up against a then-relatively-unknown state senator from Wrentham named Scott Brown.

That race was a no-brainer, too. Coakley had all the institutional support, and was expected to wipe the floor with Brown. All she had to do was show up, because there was no way a Republican was ever going to sit in Ted Kennedy’s seat. We all know what happened and I think there may be a chance history will repeat itself on June 25.

I’m sure my more liberal friends will scoff at the prospect that a Democrat with Markey’s credentials and war chest could seriously be challenged by an upstart Republican with no electoral experience. But that may be the biggest thing Gomez has going for him. He’s not a career politician nor is he someone so ideologically entrenched that he’s going to add to the partisan dysfunction that continues to plague this Congress and is one of the big reasons that body’s national approval ratings hovering around 10 percent.

Consider the tone of the victory speeches Tuesday night. Gomez was understated and apolitical, making it clear that if the voters wanted someone who wouldn’t go to Washington and work with the opposition party, “I’m not your guy.” Markey’s speech, by contrast, focused heavily on preventing the Republicans from using Massachusetts as a stepping stone toward their ultimate goal of taking back the Senate.

Which message do you think will resonate better with independent voters, who are still the largest single voting block in this commonwealth?

The Democrats are going to do whatever they can to demonize Gomez and make him look like just another Republican ideologue. That’s also going to be a tough sell, given the guy’s pedigree as a family man and a Hispanic former Navy SEAL who the camera happens to love. Fitting him with a set of horns is not going to be easy and if Markey tries to go full-on negative, it could backfire in a major way.

And then there is Markey the candidate who, let’s face it, is not exactly the most dynamic dog in the hunt. His lack of charisma becomes even more apparent standing next to Gomez, he has an extremely liberal voting record that is ripe for exploitation and there seems to be a sense of entitlement to his candidacy, as if it his somehow his “turn” to run for this job. I just can’t believe this is a formula that is going to appeal to anything other than the most rabidly partisan voter.

Markey also isn’t going to have presidential coattails to ride. Part of the reason Elizabeth Warren was able to wipe out Brown in November was because of high voter turnout and down-ticket support from Obama voters. Those aren’t going to be factors this time around.

One potentially huge obstacle for Gomez is a lack of support within his own party. His pro-choice stance and public support for President Obama had a number of conservatives seething during the primary. I’m guessing that anger hasn’t subsided, regardless of Tuesday’s vote count. If they are smart, Republicans will get over it and keep its eyes on the prize, recognizing that defense of an ideology is important, but not if it costs you elections. Failure to recognize that reality is probably one of the reasons why there aren’t enough Republicans in the Legislature to field a decent softball team.

Gomez is already smart enough to recognize that it’s not going to be party that puts him in the Senate. To win, he needs cross-over Democrats and unenrolled, working-class voters who are tired of having a government full of Markey-type career politicians, a place where there is more interest in winning partisan political battles than doing the people’s business.

There are a lot more of those people in this state than one might think. That’s why Markey and his supporters should be more than a little nervous heading into this election.

A little recognition

Congratulations to two of my favorite arena dwellers, Greenfield attorney Isaac Mass and Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Franklin County Executive Director Danielle Letourneau-Therrien, both of whom were recently named to BusinessWest Magazine’s “40 under 40” club.

The annual designation recognizes community movers and shakers under the age of 40, and you couldn’t have two better representatives from this area than Isaac and Danni, both of whom have shuffled off the local political scene for what we can only hope is a temporary hiatus. Congrats to both.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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