Lynch touts union support, dismisses Markey endorsements in primary fight

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) believes his union support and working-class background are enough to a win the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts being vacated by incoming Secretary of State John Kerry (D-Mass.).

"I think we come from very different places and our experiences in life have been a real contrast," Lynch told The Hill of himself and his primary opponent, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

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Lynch cited his experience as a union worker in Massachusetts, a career which saw him serve on the board of a local ironworkers union and as a union activist, as evidence he better understands the experience of average Massachusetts voters.

"I think I have a good connection to the people in the state, especially those in the blue collar areas that are struggling the hardest," he said.

Lynch will officially launch his bid for the seat Thursday afternoon, and faces an uphill battle for the nomination against Markey, who has received overwhelming establishment support since announcing his bid in December.

The initial flood of endorsements for Markey, which included support from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Kerry himself, was seen as an effort by Democrats to prevent a potentially bruising primary. But Lynch is flouting that effort with his senate campaign, and dismissed the endorsements Markey has received.

"The fact that the Senator from Colorado, who's the chair of the Democratic Senate Committee, endorsed him — I'm not so sure that that's a valid recommendation. I'm not so sure that Mr. Bennet has any idea what we're dealing with in Massachusetts," he said.

Markey has faced charges that he's spent too much time in Washington, with the likely Republican contender in the race, former Sen. Scott Brown, once claiming that he's "never seen Ed on the airplane" from Massachusetts.

"Does he even live here any more?" Brown asked of Markey.

Lynch, too, made note of Markey's long tenure in Washington, arguing that his more than three decades of service has made him out-of-touch with average Massachusetts voters.

"He has been in Congress for 38 years. I don't believe he had any private sector experience before that, or any experience that is similar to what the people of Massachusetts are experiencing now," he said.

He charged that Markey is "more of a selection of the Democratic establishment in Washington."

"That's not surprising — he's been there 38 years — but if you want to shake things up in the Senate, if you want to change things in the status quo, I don't think you choose the candidate who's been endorsed by the Democratic Senate Committee," he said.

Markey's supporters argue that his deep well of experience is an asset, and that his leadership in Congress, particularly on climate issues, makes him an attractive candidate for the Senate.

Markey welcomed Lynch into the race in a statement from his campaign, which also urged Lynch to sign a pledge keeping outside money out of the race, which Lynch has said he accepts.

"Time and again, I've stood up to big oil, Wall Street and the gun lobby, and this race should be about the people of Massachusetts having a voice in the Senate, not the special interests. We need a Senator who continues to stand up for the progressive values that John Kerry and Massachusetts believe in and who's focused on creating the jobs our economy needs. That's why I'm running for Senate," Markey said in the statement.

Both Markey's campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee declined to comment for this article.

Markey remains the front-runner. A recent poll from a Democratic firm showed him beating Lynch in a primary matchup nearly 3-to-1, and Markey's got a similar fundraising advantage on Lynch.

Lynch has also taken more conservative positions on major issues such as healthcare reform, which he voted against, and abortion rights, which he opposes. These will be difficult obstacles for him in a low-turnout Democratic primary.

However, Lynch said he believes he's "got room to grow" in the race, and plans to campaign across the state to improve his name recognition and standing with voters. He also said he has the endorsements of 27 unions, but declined to elaborate on specifics.

Markey and Lynch have served side-by-side in Congress for more than a decade, but Lynch said he believes the primary fight will remain civil, and not devolve into personal attacks.

"I think it'll be a matter of issues. It'll be a matter of perspective, what we each bring, what our strengths would be in a general election," he said.

"Ed's a grownup, and so am I."