Five lessons learned from the Mass. Senate race

Obama's approval rating has taken a dive nationwide — and did so in the most recent poll of Massachusetts voters, as well — but frustration with the president and Washington in general wasn't enough to topple even a "creature of Washington," as Gomez called Markey.

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If voters don't get riled up amid multiple, developing scandals, it looks unlikely that the fire that changed the composition of Congress so drastically in 2010 will reignite in time for 2014, after media attention has dissipated and the scandals have faded from voters' memories.

2. Candidates aren't everything.

Establishment Republicans got their favored candidate in Gabriel Gomez, after he faced off against a relatively unknown state representative and a far-right former George W. Bush official in the primary. The young private-equity executive, born of Colombian immigrants, also served as a Navy SEAL and spoke Spanish on the trail.

Republicans from Washington, D.C., to Boston described him as that "new kind of Republican" the party is looking for to compete in traditional Democratic strongholds, the kind of candidate the Republican National Committee said the party needs to stay competitive in its 2012 postmortem.

But Gomez's resume, though impressive, was never enough. Voters, MassINC pollster Steve Koczela said, have looked at the race as more than just a personality contest — they want their candidates to give them a reason to vote for them.

"By running that kind of campaign, [Gomez] did seem to forgo opportunities to explain to people why [Gomez] should go to Congress, rather than Markey,” he said.

Republicans spent much of the race framing Markey as out-of-touch and ineffective, but without a clear vision for what a Massachusetts Republican would accomplish in the Senate, a Massachusetts Republican was always a tough sell. Read more.

3. Money matters.

Democrats outspent Gomez by more than 3-to-1 by the end of the race, and as a result, as late as two and a half weeks before Election Day, Gomez was running introductory spots on air.

Massachusetts is an expensive state, and Markey had a head-start in fundraising. The fact that Gomez would need support from GOP outside groups was no secret — one national GOP operative called it "pivotal" early on in the race.

But the money never materialized. The National Republican Senatorial Committee spent nearly a million for Gomez, and a mysterious group that billed itself as moderate went up with a late ad buy attacking Markey — all of which seemed too little, too late. Markey was able to define Gomez on guns and Social Security, while Gomez struggled to spread his message across Massachusetts.

The reluctance of outside groups and big GOP donors to dip their toes into the race, despite persistent calls for help from national GOP figures and the NRSC's political gurus, raises questions about the donor class' involvement in future races.

Some Republicans have suggested that reluctance smacks of hypocrisy. After winning their favored candidate in the primary, Brad Todd, a GOP strategist advising Gomez, wondered on Twitter whether conservatives had the "nerve to try & win."

“There have been plenty of Republicans that have been moping around in sackcloth lab coats looking for the original strain of the virus that caused us to lose last year. It’s time that they get up off the couch and help us,” he told The Hill.

But they never did — and as a result, Gomez never gained traction in the race.


4. The Massachusetts GOP needs to rebuild.

Democrats and Republicans alike agreed for weeks that the race, due to expected low turnout, would come down to the ground game, meaning whichever candidate could bring out their base would win.

And there was little question Markey had the leg-up on that avenue. With multiple interest groups launching canvassing efforts, unions setting their considerable organizations into motion and a former Obama campaign staffer heading up the Markey campaign's field operation, the Democrat had a clear advantage on the ground from the beginning.

Republicans in Massachusetts admit their state party apparatus isn't what it needs to be to win statewide elections, despite the fact they feel their party overall is competitive. Indeed, Massachusetts offers an opportunity for centrists and conservatives in its plurality of independent voters, and a portion of conservative Democrats have been known to swing to the right.

To that effect, Massachusetts GOP Chairman Kirsten Hughes has pledged to recruit new members into the party and rebuild it — a prospect that will help future Republican candidates, but will come too late to have done anything for Gomez.

5. Voter fatigue is real — and it's unlikely to disappear in Massachusetts.

The record-low turnout for the race — Massachusetts officials predicted 36 percent, or 1.6 million, far fewer than the 2.25 million that voted in 2010 — reflects the odd timing of the race and the weather in Massachusetts.

But it also reflects a state desensitized to political engagement by multiple high-profile races. Though Massachusetts residents are known for their enthusiastic consumption of politics, it's difficult to maintain a consistent level of enthusiasm after a contentious gubernatorial race, two dramatic Senate races and a presidential.

"We are living in the land of perpetual elections here," Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh told The Hill last week. "There is, in a sense, fatigue."

But voters in Massachusetts can't rest yet — the Boston mayoral race is picking up, there will be a contentious fight among Democrats to replace Markey in the House and, before they know it, 2014 will begin, bringing with it what looks to be an eventful gubernatorial race and, yes, another Senate race.