Markey builds Obama-strong ground game for Mass. special election

Rep. Ed Markey's (D-Mass.) campaign for Senate in Massachusetts has established a ground operation that rivals that of President Obama, and in the coming weeks volunteers plan to contact half a million potential Markey voters to boost their chances at a win.

The effort is being led by Carl Nilsson, Obama's field director in Massachusetts, who made an effort to bring over many of the Obama campaign staffers he worked with in the 2012 election cycle.

And in a special election during the spring, where time and resources are short, the 5,000 volunteers, 2,000 voter contact events and 600 supporters gathered at a get-out-the-vote training session this Sunday could make the difference between a Martha-Coakley-like upset for the frontrunner and a win at the polls on election day.

Indeed, Democrats in Massachusetts still campaign in the shadow of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley's (D) 2010 loss to Scott Brown (R) in a similar special election, which many party operatives admit was a botched campaign.

That's part of the reason why Markey's campaign won't handicap the congressman's odds going into the primary, insisting they're taking nothing for granted, not even his lead in multiple polls.

Marianne Rutter, a volunteer leader for the campaign, said that she's engaged because the memory of Coakley's loss is still fresh.

"In Massachusetts, we remember how painful that special election in 2010 was, and I don't think any of us want to experience that again," she said.

Rutter, who works for a publishing company by day, puts upwards of 25 hours into Markey's campaign each week, and said she's so committed to his win because he's "pretty special."

"He's a great legislator who delivers based on his values, and you know what you're gonna get," she said.

Though Markey leads in the polls, however, he's received criticism that he may be rusty going into a general election campaign.

"Markey right now is looking beatable," wrote Boston Herald political reporter Joe Battenfield prior to the candidates' last debate, noting what he called Markey's "lackluster" performance during the first televised debate.

The Massachusetts Republican Party has issued multiple releases highlighting reports that Markey has ducked local press, and one incident where he called in to a kickoff event for his women's coalition.

The early criticism from the Massachusetts GOP is a reflection of the fact that while Markey is expected to win the primary, some Republicans privately speculate that he is beatable in the general.

And though his staff won't publicly look past April 30, the Boston Herald reports that the campaign has planned a fundraiser for May 5 outside Markey's congressional district.

Markey spokesman Mark Horan said the fundraiser was a reflection of the fact that "you have to plan for every contingency," but not that the campaign isn't focused on the primary race.

But a ground operation in the thousands is indeed a buffer for "every contingency," one that will aid him in both the primary and the general.

Primary opponent Rep. Stephen Lynch’s campaign declined to comment on their ground operation.

For Markey's campaign, the tiered structure of the volunteer network — teams of volunteers ranging in size from 10 to 30 people reporting to regional volunteer leaders, who in turn report to leaders in the campaign’s 10 field offices — has given the campaign the ability to launch a highly-targeted canvassing and phone-banking effort.

And in addition to the Markey campaign's own efforts, they've got the support of hundreds of canvassers from groups like the League of Conservation Voters and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

And to prevent a repeat of 2010 in either the primary or general, Markey's ground operation has webbed the state with canvassers and phone banks, knocking on more than 20,000 doors last weekend and planning to tackle 20,000 more this weekend, an effort that will continue up to — and, if the congressman has his way, through — April 30.

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