Gabriel Gomez’s consistently close position in the polls coupled with the uncertainty inherent in a special election have Republicans hopeful that they can pull off an upset in the final 10 days of a hard-fought campaign for the vacant Massachusetts Senate seat. But they will need a number of winds to blow their way.
The Republican will need to find a way to make his message stick, and to do so, he’ll need outside money. He’ll have to shift his ground operation into high gear to ensure independents turn out in droves, to offset the Democratic registration advantage in the state.
But the steady parade of Democratic heavies— President Obama, former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden -- who are hitting the state for him shortly before Election Day — seems to indicate Democrats are concerned Gomez may have a path to victory.
Nearly every poll of the race, including two released this week, give Markey just a single-digit lead over Gomez, stoking those fears with hard data.
Tufts University Professor of Political Science Jeffrey Berry said Gomez needs, ultimately, to get independents excited for his bid, because neither candidate has really ignited any passion in their supporters.
“The emphasis in the Gomez campaign has been on character, because the issues favor Democrats,” he said. “Gomez needs to create some excitement about his personal story among independents here.”
Gomez spokesman Will Ritter said the campaign plans to do just that, launching a series of town halls throughout the state to meet voters over the next week.
He said that if the campaign can get out their message, they’re confident they can take the seat.
“We need to be able to make our case for Gabriel Gomez to independent voters in Massachusetts. Ed Markey has decided that he is going to tailor his message to scare independents and excite the far Left,” Ritter said.
“We’re going to have to combat that by portraying Gomez as an outsider, Navy SEAL businessman, going up against an insider, hyper-partisan guy who couldn’t possibly change Washington.”
As Massachusetts GOP strategist Ryan Williams, a former Mitt Romney campaign staffer, explained, the outsider message is one that works in Massachusetts.
“It’s the message that the Republican gubernatorial candidates used over the years. We’ve had people who ran as outsiders versus the insider machine on Beacon Hill. To highlight the contrast between his record as a Navy SEAL and a businessman, and Markey being a career politician, is the right strategy,” he said.
But the Markey campaign is seeking to neutralize Gomez's business background by raising questions about his career in private equity. And Andrew Zucker, Markey's spokesman, indicated the Democrat is going to stick to the line of attack they've used throughout the campaign in the final week and a half: Hammering Gomez on guns, on seniors' issues and on his connection to the national GOP.
"Gabriel Gomez faces a daunting task over the final days of this election: he must distract voters from his strong support for the national Republican Party agenda to block commonsense gun laws, protect tax breaks for millionaires, raise the retirement age for our seniors and restrict a woman's right to choose," he said.
And ultimately, drowing out Democrats' message may come down to funding, something Gomez has struggled to obtain throughout his campaign.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee appears to have funneled money to the state GOP to back a sizeable buy for Gomez earlier in the campaign, but thus far only one outside spending group — a mysterious group that bills itself as moderate and was registered with the FEC earlier this month — has gone on air for Gomez.
Republicans are still hopeful they’ll see an influx of outside help, but concede any groups would have to buy this weekend or early next week to make a difference.
Solid messaging, however, can only go so far. The odd timing of the special election means low turnout is likely, and both candidates will need to work double-time to get their voters to the polls.
Markey has established a ground game that rivals that of Obama, led by the president’s Massachusetts campaign field director, and is expanding in the final weeks with an influx of former staffers fom Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) successful campaign. He’ll have the support of union volunteers, who are known for their organizing skill in Massachusetts, and the League of Conservation Voters has spent thousands on a canvassing operation for the Democrat.
Republican candidates in Massachusetts typically start with a handicap in terms of ground-game operations, as the state party is not as strong as their Democratic counterpart.
But Gomez’s campaign insists they won’t be caught sleeping — and there are indications they could have an influx of volunteer help in the final week and a half of the campaign.
Republicans familiar with the race say they’re aiming to win 55-60 percent of independents and 15-18 percent of Democrats to take the seat.
And to ensure that level of turnout, since the end of May, they’ve had four field offices up and running in Watertown, Worcester, Wakefield and Hyannis. The National Republican Senatorial Committee also sent three staff-members down to support his campaign, and they’re working with the Republican National Committee to bring in volunteers in the final five days from other New England state Republican organizations.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) will also be issuing an email request for New Hampshire volunteers to head down to Massachusetts for Gomez, according to a source familiar with the campaign.
Ayotte will be one of just a handful of national Republican figures who have helped Gomez in his bid. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani both stumped for the Republican, and Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) issued fundraising pleas for him.
Notably absent from the trail, however, is the politician whose stunning upset Gomez hopes to repeat on June 25: Scott Brown.
Brown (R), the former Massachusetts senator, told the Boston Herald that “anything I’ve been asked to do I’ve done,” indicating he hasn’t yet been asked to hit the trail for Gomez.
On Friday, he issued a fundraising plea for Gomez via email. But his presence on the trail could bring the kind of star power and attention Gomez has yet been unable to channel throughout his campaign.
Brown, or a similarly explosive event, in the final 10 days of the campaign, could be what Gomez needs to close that 7-percentage-point gap with Markey — to, as Brown put it in his fundraising email, “show them again.”
--This piece was updated on Monday to reflect comment from Markey's campaign.