Turnout in Tuesday’s special U.S. Senate primary will probably be low — almost no one is used to voting in April. But by rights this election should be a door-buster.
First, it’s a wide-open primary. Voters who are unenrolled (the vast majority in Massachusetts) can choose either party to cast a primary ballot. And the field of candidates represents the full ideological spectrum, from liberal Republican to conservative Democrat and back again. Unlike some political races that offer a narrow choice with little difference among the candidates, this election has something for everyone.
Just take a gander at the five major candidates. There’s Congressman Edward Markey, representing the mainstream Massachusetts Democratic Party, which in this state means liberal on social issues such as abortion rights and gay marriage. His opponent, Congressman Stephen Lynch, is a lunch-bucket Democrat with appeal to blue-collar voters and union workers. His support for the litmus-test social issues is far more grudging.
The two also split along the so-called blue-green divide that dogs the Democratic Party on environmental issues: Markey has solid green credentials, opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline currently awaiting approval from the U.S. State Department, for example. Lynch wants to preserve blue-collar jobs, even at some risk to environment, and he was an early supporter of the pipeline.
Unlike some political races that offer a narrow choice with little difference among the candidates, this election has something for everyone.
Lynch may get some crossover support from unenrolled voters who normally lean Republican, but he isn’t quite a “Reagan Democrat.” That mantle fits more comfortably on the shoulders of former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, who has always run for office as a Republican but who would be a comfortable conservative Democrat in most other states. Like Reagan, he’s a law-and-order foreign policy hawk from a big Irish family. He is pro-life (except when it comes to the death penalty), and he is death on taxes.
The Republican field also includes state Rep. Dan Winslow, an iconoclastic social liberal who is more in the mold of former Gov. Bill Weld than Mitt Romney, in whose administration he served. Winslow is to the left of Democrat Lynch on the social issues — for gay marriage and pro-choice — and severely conservative on fiscal issues. He represents a strain of Massachusetts Republicans who feels social issues have become a damaging distraction to the party’s main message of small government and low taxes.
Winslow may be in the Weld mold, but the former governor threw his endorsement last week to the third man in the Republican primary: Gabriel Gomez. A businessman and a Navy SEAL, Gomez represents an emerging and highly prized Republican type: a minority whose first language isn’t English. He could be attractive to Republicans who worry the party is jeopardizing its future with its tough stands against immigration reform.
With so much variety, there’s little credence in this particular race to the common voter complaint that “the candidates don’t represent me.” But there’s another compelling reason for Massachusetts voters to turn out on Tuesday: the still searing memory of the Marathon bombings. No one needs to be reminded that the attacks occurred on Patriots’ Day. What more patriotic — and defiant — act could there be in the face of violent terror than to exercise the franchise that so many have died for?
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