By Alexandra Jaffe - 06/12/13 09:00 AM EDT
President Obama’s campaign trip to Massachusetts on Wednesday is the culmination of a ‘better-safe-than-sorry’ strategy for national Democrats anxious about a repeat of the party’s 2010 Senate election loss to former Republican Sen. Scott Brown.
While Democrats insist they’re not concerned about Rep. Edward Markey’s (D-Mass.) ability to win the June 25 special election, his Republican opponent, Gabriel Gomez, has kept the longtime congressman’s lead to single digits in nearly every poll of the race.
“There was a sudden shift in the last two weeks in 2010. I wouldn’t say you’ll find a Democrat who wants to be caught sleeping,” said Steve Koczela, head of the MassINC polling group.
Koczela’s firm released a poll on Tuesday showing Markey holding a relatively narrow 7 percentage point lead over Gomez.
Obama carried Massachusetts by 23 points last November over Republican nominee Mitt Romney, a former governor of the state.
“We are extremely confident that Markey is going to win, but we are taking absolutely nothing for granted,” said Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Asked why Markey has been unable to expand his lead in polls, Democrats say it’s because of the compressed time span of the special election campaign and a disengaged electorate.
Brown’s victory in 2010 remains a sore point for Democrats. He won the seat held for decades by Kennedy, despite a last-ditch Obama appearance on behalf of Coakley.
Koczela noted, however, that the 2010 electoral environment was very different. Then, widespread dissatisfaction with President Obama’s healthcare overhaul led to backlash at the polls.
Obama’s bid to boost Markey comes on the heels of a Tuesday night fundraiser in Washington for Markey headlined by Biden and former Vice President Al Gore.
A Suffolk University poll this week shows Obama is still popular in deep-blue Massachusetts. But his coattails might not be as long for Markey as they were in November.
The Suffolk survey found 60 percent of voters view Obama favorably, down from 67 percent in May.
But even amid controversies over IRS political targeting, the attack in Benghazi, Libya, and National Security Agency surveillance, 57 percent of those polled approved of Obama’s job performance.
Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic strategist in Massachusetts, says there are no national Republicans who can help Gomez the way Obama can boost Markey.
“Gabriel Gomez is hard-pressed to bring any Republican in here that could help him in any way that wouldn’t be a drag on him, too,” Marsh said.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani have stumped for Gomez.
Brown could potentially help Gomez on the trail, but he told the Boston Herald he hasn’t been asked, possibly because he carries the stigma of his 2012 loss to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D).
Markey’s campaign suggested Massachusetts voters are more concerned with Republicans blocking Obama’s agenda than the current controversies weighing on the president.
Gomez represents another brick in the wall of obstruction, Democrats say.
“For whatever concern voters might have about the issues in Washington, they’re far more concerned about handing the keys (of the Senate) over to Mitch McConnell, who has stated his main goal is to obstruct President Obama’s agenda,” Andrew Zucker, a Markey spokesman, said.
Obama’s appearance reflects the added importance the Massachusetts race has taken on since the death of New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) earlier this month.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) named a Republican, Jeff Chiesa, to fill Lautenberg’s seat until an October special election, narrowing the Democrats’ majority.
Brad Dayspring, director of communications for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the big-name boosters coming to Massachusetts are evidence that Markey is in trouble.
“Whenever they bring in the liberal heavy-hitters — whether it’s Michelle Obama, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Joe Biden, Al Gore or the president — it’s either an indication the race is either closer than the DSCC wants to admit publicly or they’re wasting money, resources and the time of these officials,” Dayspring said.
Dayspring added in an email that Markey and outside groups have “outspent Gabriel Gomez by about 3-to-1, which not only reeks of desperation, but is clear evidence that Gabriel Gomez can win so long as he has an opportunity to have his message of change heard.”
Outside Republican groups aren’t yet spending for Gomez, waiting for evidence that their help could break the race open in the final weeks of the campaign.