John Sivolella: The pledge is an obvious tactic by Rep. Stephen Lynch, left, and Rep. Ed Markey to put the inexperienced Republican campaigns back on their heels early in the abbreviated special electon. (AP)
Republican candidates for the special U.S. Senate election in the Commonwealth are now scrambling to amass 10,000 valid signatures, having been left with three weeks to qualify for the April 30 primary after former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown dragged out his decision not to run in his third Senate race in four years.
Shortly after the Republicans — none of whom have any experience running for federal office — pulled their papers, old-hand Democratic Senate candidates Reps. Stephen Lynch and Ed Markey “challenged” them to forego a potentially significant source of support for the general election in June.
Lynch and Markey are pushing a retread of the “people’s pledge,” made famous by Brown and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren during their race, to severely restrict the use of third-party ads in the special election.
The pledge is an obvious tactic by Lynch and Markey to put the inexperienced Republican campaigns back on their heels early in the abbreviated campaign. But why would any of the Republican candidates in this special Senate election even consider a pledge?
To his credit, Republican candidate Dan Winslow dismissed the notion out of hand shortly after the Democratic candidates floated it. Another fledgling Republican candidate, Gabe Gomez, hasn’t yet addressed the issue, but he would be wise to reject it and move on.
If there were ever a race where such hand-tying were wholly inappropriate, this is it. The goal of the Republicans should be nothing less than working to achieve a modicum of two-party representation — something that has been circumvented by the Democratic machine in Massachusetts for too long. Lynch and Markey are manifestations of the machine. Thus, the pledge in this case doesn’t serve the ‘people,’ but rather the special interests supporting the machine.
Here’s a quick inventory of Bay State lawmakers’ party affiliations: Democrats hold all nine of the state’s congressional seats, the Governor’s Office, and they make up almost 90 percent of the State Senate and 80 percent of the House. Why wouldn’t Republicans utilize every legal source of campaign support — both direct and indirect — to be competitive in one of the most politically one-sided states in the nation?
As for the special election, the wet-behind-the-ears Republican candidates have far less time than usual to build name recognition, fund raise, and present their positions on issues that the electorate actually wants to discuss in these troubled times. With this trap set, the Democratic machine that will ultimately support Markey — who already holds a seven-point lead in the primary — or Lynch, could have an easy time defining the Republicans for voters, without the likes of Winslow or Gomez even getting off a shot.
Markey and Lynch have had their nationwide fundraising apparatuses in place for years. In the 2012 campaign cycle for instance, according to public media sources, Markey raised 40 percent of his funds from PACs, and 31 percent of that money was from out-of-state. Lynch raised 64 percent from PACs, while 16 percent of that was from outside the Commonwealth. And these figures are for races where the candidates had no opposition. The entrenched special interests supporting these candidates run deep. Markey has been developing his since attacking the Reagan Administration in support of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua in the 1980s!
Third-party groups that opt to participate in the race could research the long voting records of Markey and Lynch as members of Congress and highlight certain votes to inform the electorate. This is a project the local Republican campaigns won’t be able to muster given their limited time and resources. Why shouldn’t the public have this information?
Brown was able to suggest the pledge in his race against Warren because he already had major name recognition and was an incumbent senator. He was ostensibly on more of an equal footing with the Democratic machine when he proposed the pledge, though that turned out to be folly in the long-run. Warren out-raised him by over 40 percent, and a large percentage of her campaign money came from out-of-state. He put himself at a competitive disadvantage and overestimated the strength of his grass roots organization.
So, no, these Republican candidates shouldn’t meekly give up potential support for their campaigns. Instead, they should keep their noses to the proverbial grindstone while ignoring distractions like the pledge. They should be aggressive and transparent, bordering on in-your-face. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.