A bit of politics again

May 3, 2013

This week we had a primary here in Massachusetts, to choose the candidates for Secretary of State Kerry’s old Senate seat.

The winners were U. S. Representative Markey on the Democratic side, and for the Republicans (more surprisingly) a political newcomer (ex-SEAL, businessman) named Gabriel Gomez. The state is well known to be heavily Democratic, so Markey is favored in the upcoming election, but Gomez is considered to be the Republican most capable of pulling an upset, because he is an attractive personality, not publicly identified with extreme right-wing positions or causes, socially moderate-to-liberal, a Latino, and above all a fresh face compared to his opponent, who has been in Congress since the 1970s. A poll published today in fact shows Markey with a mere 4% lead, and Gomez leading among Independents.

People are wondering if Gomez will be another Scott Brown, who won the special election to succeed Ted Kennedy a few years ago; his opponent Martha Coakley had started out as the overwhelming favorite. It can happen; but there are factors working against Gomez as well. For one thing the anti-Obama mood of 2010, which helped elect Brown, seems to be behind us.  Also, there is the fact that there’s already been a Scott Brown; the Markey campaign won’t be caught by surprise, they’ll know better than to be take the election for granted as Coakley seemed to do. They’ve already begun campaigning hard against Gomez, trying to portray him as more right-wing than he comes across in person, and also pointing out that however nice a guy he might be he’ll still be a vote for the Republicans when it comes to organizing the Senate (and very likely disrupting it with filibusters as they’ve been doing). On the other hand going after someone with a nice-guy image can backfire badly if the attack can’t be made to stick.

A couple of other things: Markey may be the consummate Washington insider, but locals here don’t seem have the same antipathy towards such types as they do towards Beacon Hill insiders. Moreover, Coakley was Attorney-General; in other states prosecutors may be popular heroes and have a leg up in seeking higher office, but here they seem to make more enemies than friends, as the people they feel they have to prosecute are often well connected. Scott Harshbarger, I seem to recall, ran into this problem when he ran for Governor in 1998…

An irony is that we wouldn’t be having this election at all, or the one in 2010 that gave us Senator Brown, if the Democrats hadn’t tinkered with the law in 2004. Until then Massachusetts, like most states, allowed the Governor to fill Senate vacancies by appointing someone to serve until the next regular Congressional election; but that year Kerry ran for President, and if he’d won Mitt Romney would have appointed his successor in the Senate. The overwhelming Democratic majority in General Court (as we call the state legislature) didn’t like that idea, so they reduced the term of an appointed Senator to just enough time for a special election to be organized. But Kerry of course ended up staying in the Senate; by the time an actual vacancy did arise we had a Democratic Governor, but it would have looked bad even by Beantown standards if they’d tried to change the law back.

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