Democrats are cautiously confident Rep. Ed Markey is headed for victory over Republican Gabriel Gomez in Tuesday’s Massachusetts Senate special election — though Republicans insist the outcome remains anyone’s guess. [WATCH VIDEO]
“The real question is, who's going to remember to vote? And that’s really what we're focused on.”
Confidence among Democrats in Markey’s chances soared late last week after a Boston Herald poll showed the longtime congressman with a 20-point lead over Gomez, a first-time GOP candidate.
Republicans touted a Republican poll that showed Gomez within 3 points, but no independent survey during the campaign showed him that close to Markey.
Any temptation among Democrats to pop the cork is being tempered by painful memories of the 2010 special Senate election, when Republican Scott Brown won the seat held for decades by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Democrats believe a superior ground game will seal the deal.
Markey launched a new ad late last week reminding voters to head to the polls on Tuesday, while Walsh and other Democratic officials have spread out across the state in an effort to turn out the party’s base on Election Day.
They’re being joined by a host of unions and liberal outside groups like the League of Conservation Voters.
GOP activists acknowledge they lack the sophisticated voter turnout infrastructure that Democrats have built in the state over the years.
“Fighting against the status quo is never easy. It’s always an uphill battle, but we've made progress on our ground game,” said Massachusetts Republican Party Spokesman Tim Buckley.
“Obviously in such a condensed timeframe you don’t really have the ability to deliver the ground game to the same extent as a typical election.”
Markey and Gomez are competing for the seat former Sen. John Kerry vacated when he became secretary of State in late January.
Fearful of a 2010 repeat, Democrats dispatched President Obama, former president Bill Clinton and Vice President Biden to shore up Markey after early polls showed him with a single-digit poll lead.
But while Republicans haven’t been able to match Democrats in spending and star power, party activists maintain they could still mount an upset.
“Gomez has been in much tougher spots,” said spokesman Will Ritter said of the GOP candidate, a former Navy SEAL.
The Republican hopeful made a final weekend push to close the poll gap between him and Markey — increasing a new advertising buy by $300,000.
The extra spending followed a fundraising surge last week that Gomez's team says was driven by the candidate's strong performance in the final debate of the campaign.
Compared to the two most recent Massachusetts campaigns — the 2012 showdown between Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) and Brown (R), and the 2010 battle between Brown and Martha Coakley (D) — the 2013 race has failed to excite voters.
Applications for absentee ballots are down from the 2010 special election by more than 13,000, and Massachusetts officials are “extremely concerned” about turnout on Tuesday, according to the Boston Globe.
Boston University Social Science Professor Thomas Whalen said the expected low turnout reflects a lack of enthusiasm about either Markey or Gomez.
“They have as much charisma as Lurch the Butler on the old Addams Family television show, collectively. They are just god-darned awful,” said Whalen.
Massachusetts voters were spoiled, Whalen said, by the high-octane, high-profile races of 2010 and 2012. By comparison, the 2013 race has “been an utter exercise in vacuousness.”
Democrats are hoping their significant registration advantage in Massachusetts will be enough to lift Markey, despite the middling public interest in the race.
Gomez’s path to victory lies through the largest ideological voting bloc in the state — independents.
“We believe that the voters of Massachusetts who are motivated for change in Washington will be more motivated to go to the polls than those who are comfortable with the status quo,” Ritter said.
Gomez’s closing argument asks voters to send him down to Washington for a trial run, before the next Senate election in 2014.
“Give me 17 months,” he says in a debate clip featured in his newest ad, “and I will keep my word and I will do what I say.”
Gomez sought throughout the campaign to draw a contrast between his own lack of political experience and Markey’s 37 years in the House. Republican cast Markey as a creature of Washington who no longer understands Massachusetts.
But throughout the campaign, he was outgunned.
Democrats outspent Gomez 3-to-1 on television advertising at one point.
Gomez’s final push for votes will include a Monday night rally with Brown, who remains popular in Massachusetts.
Republicans hope the media coverage generated by Brown, on the election’s eve, will help spark a last-minute GOP surge.
But Steve Koczela, head of the MassINC Polling Group, said that if Gomez loses, it will be because he failed persuade voters that something new was better than tried and true.
“A couple of main things that the Gomez campaign focused on weren’t all that important to voters at the end of the day: Markey being the poster boy for term limits was Gomez’s line. (But) that one when you poll it, it doesn’t really do anything for people,” he said.
“The Washington insider/outsider issue also ranked low on the list of issues important to voters.”
Koczela said that polling — and Warren’s victory over Brown in the 2012 race — indicated voters are looking for a candidate who will “stand up for them on the issues they care about.”
“And Gomez has been hard to pin down on some of those things. By running that kind of campaign, they did seem to forego opportunities to explain to people why [Gomez] should go to Congress, rather than Markey,” he said.