It’s possible that city-council elections have generated more interest than this year’s GOP Senate primary in Massachusetts.
Polls show two candidates leading — Michael Sullivan, a former U.S. Attorney and acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and Gabriel Gomez, a private-equity investor and former Navy SEAL. State representative Dan Winslow is a distant third. But none of the three have excited state Republicans.
Massachusetts political strategist Meredith Warren says that the Boston mayoral race is overshadowing the Senate race. “People have been paying more attention to that than they have been to the Senate race. Now with the marathon, people are paying even less attention to it,” Warren remarks, noting that the candidates weren’t helped by their needing to suspend their campaigns for a time after the Boston attacks. “There really hasn’t been a lot of coverage of this race,” agrees Massachusetts GOP strategist Rob Gray, “or a lot of viewers of debates or a lot of advertising to spark interest.”
Conservative talk-show host Michael Graham is blunt about why the interest levels are so low. “Do the math,” he says. “They’ve had 70-some general elections since 2000 and Republicans have won one. And then there’s been one special election with Scott Brown, who promptly got his head handed to him in the general. . . . Massachusetts doesn’t elect Republicans. Period.”
Generally, state politicos see Sullivan as the most conservative candidate of the three. Winslow is pro-choice, while Gomez, a political newbie, donated to President Obama’s campaign in 2008. In a January letter to Governor Deval Patrick, asking to be appointed as the replacement for John Kerry, Gomez wrote, “I supported President Obama in 2008.”
“I voted for John McCain in 2008, and I voted for Mitt Romney in 2012,” Gomez tellsNational Review Online. “I donated to Obama because a friend of mine went to law school [with Obama], and that was it. I’m a proud Republican . . . and have been all my life.” According to the Associated Press, Sullivan donated once to a Democratic candidate, while Winslow has made multiple donations (but says he has never donated to Democratic candidates in a race that included a Republican candidate).
If turnout is low, Sullivan is the most likely to benefit. “Conservatives are more likely to turn out here in this type of special-election primary that’s on an odd day on the calendar,” says Gray. Warren thinks that Sullivan has proven his appeal to the grassroots. “He was the only candidate who was able to collect all 10,000 signatures you need to get on the ballot through a complete volunteer effort,” she remarks. “He didn’t have to spend money.”
Gomez’s campaign is hoping TV ads in the final days will boost his chances — and points to his upward climb in the polls as proof of momentum. “Our message is resonating,” says Lenny Alcivar, a Gomez spokesman. “Theirs is not.” On Monday, Gomez was endorsed by former Massachusetts GOP governor William Weld. A Gomez aide also speculates that Gomez, and not Sullivan, might be able to peel off some voters from Winslow, who trails the other two.
But none of the three are anticipated to repeat Scott Brown’s 2010 win. There’s a chance that if the very liberal congressman Ed Markey wins the Democratic Senate primary, as expected, some independents may more strongly consider the GOP candidate. But the low buzz surrounding the three candidates, coupled with their difficulty raising money, inspires little confidence that any of them could prove to be a winner in a state as blue as Massachusetts. Gomez, the most successful fundraiser on the Republican side, has brought in $582,000, compared with the $1.5 million and $4.7 million raised by Democratic candidates Stephen Lynch and Markey, respectively.
“At this point, it seems very unlikely,” Gray says of a Republican upset. “If Scott was in this special election, I think he’d be winning right now and would be likely to win in June, because the political geography of the special election in June of 2013 is pretty similar to the political geography of a special election in January of 2010.” As in 2010, when college students were on holiday break, the summer timing of the special election means most of them will be away. “It’s an odd time of year where you can generate a turnout surprise for a Republican candidate,” Gray adds. “The political geography is good, but the current crop of Republican candidates just doesn’t seem to be well-financed enough to pull it off.”
Graham is even more pessimistic. “Scott Brown can’t be the next Scott Brown,” he says bluntly. “Scott Brown was a total fluke. They [Democrats] didn’t see it coming. Once they saw it coming, it was over.”
“Look at the poll numbers after Scott Brown’s loss: The polls showed that voters liked him more and agreed that he was a good independent voice. They agreed that he wasn’t a partisan Republican,” Graham adds. “But he wasn’t a Democrat, so they didn’t vote for him.”