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Mass. Senate

Gabriel Gomez, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, lost his bid against Democrat U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, who won the special election and will take the seat vacated by John Kerry. John Sivolella offers six key takeaways from the race. (Charles Krupa/AP)

The Commonwealth’s second special election for the U.S. Senate — and fourth statewide election — in three-and-a-half years is on the books, and Ed Markey joins Elizabeth Warren to make up one of the most junior, and liberal, pairings in the Senate.

The trend predicted by polls played out at the ballot box. The 37 year Democratic veteran of the House played it cautiously, befitting his interminable career in Washington, and won by a comfortable, though not overwhelming margin.

Gabriel Gomez, the Republican neophyte with little name recognition but a great resume ran a very solid, condensed campaign and did himself, and the Massachusetts GOP, proud.

This unusual election cycle leaves us with a few key takeaways. Some are creatures of the uniqueness of this race, but others may indicate that shifts in political strategy, particularly by the GOP, are in order.

The electorate, though, as anticipated, let itself and the Commonwealth down with an abysmal turnout. Election fatigue from the carousel of recent races surely played a role and in the end 73 percent of the state’s voters sat this one out.

This unusual election cycle leaves us with a few key takeaways. Some are creatures of the uniqueness of this race, but others may indicate that shifts in political strategy, particularly by the GOP, are in order.

Takeaway 1: A missed opportunity?

Efforts like the Republican National Committee’s “Growth and Opportunity Project” notwithstanding, this election begs the question of whether the national GOP is ready to address its demographic shortcomings.

On paper, Gomez would seem to be a dream candidate for a party trying to make headway with a growing Latino electorate. A son of Colombian immigrants, Gomez combined a stellar military career with high-level success in the private sector. Yet, even though this was the only game in town, national party support was tepid at best.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee provided reasonable assistance, but other national Republicans sat on the sidelines. There were some chicken-or-egg dynamics at work, as many in the GOP were waiting for the Gomez campaign to prove itself prior to jumping in. But it’s tough for a new statewide campaign to get off the ground without significant outside support. The half-hearted approach may have been due to Gomez distancing himself from GOP dogma on a range of issues.

Takeaway 2: Where was Scott Brown?

While the former senator did help Gomez raise money and record robocalls in recent weeks, he was nowhere to be found for most of the race.

Markey trotted out the president, the vice-president, and the first lady. Even former President Bill Clinton made an appearance.

Brown remains the de facto leader of the Massachusetts GOP and is still very popular with voters. More visible and consistent support from him may have helped. Brown would have injected some excitement into an otherwise morose election cycle. Then again, Brown may have been suffering from the same election fatigue afflicting much of the rest of the state.

Takeaway 3:  It’s all about the Independents.

Statewide GOP candidates need to identify wedge issues earlier on to mobilize the Commonwealth’s large subset of Independents. They are there for the taking, but informed analysts believe the GOP needs to win over as much as 65 percent of Independents to succeed in a state where Democrats have a three-to-one registration advantage. Gomez was running about 10 percent short of this goal.

Takeaway 4:  People’s Pledge

Though the “People’s Pledge” remains a sham, and Gomez was correct on principle to reject it, his campaign may have made a strategic error in not signing on. Markey not only used the pledge early on to distract voters from real issues like job creation, but he then brazenly turned around and raised millions from out-of-state  donors to finance a stream of attack ads.

By signing, Gomez may have been able to limit Markey’s outside money and, by so doing, prevent him from subjecting viewers of the Stanley Cup playoffs from having to sit through the type of political ads that make voters shut down.

Takeaway 5: Massachusetts has lost a lot of clout in Congress.

Not only did the latest census result in the Commonwealth dropping a House seat, but iconic Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry have been replaced by Warren and Markey, who are still B-listers in Washington. We’ll see how this works out for the state, particularly if the GOP is able to recapture the Senate in 2014.

Takeaway 6: Never, ever have an election in the summer.

The combination of stifling heat and polling booths creates a cognitive dissonance in a state where the turning of leaves usually signals election season. And what little oxygen there was in the media for this off-cycle election had already been consumed by coverage of the Marathon bombings, hockey playoffs, Bulger trial, and Aaron Hernandez.

Markey won’t have much time to savor his victory. The 17 months until the next Senate election will have to be a perpetual campaign if he wants to solidify his unimpressive political machinery.

Markey won’t have much time to savor his victory. The 17 months until the next Senate election will have to be a perpetual campaign if he wants to solidify his unimpressive political machinery. He’ll also have to continue to build his 2014 war chest to fend off a potential rematch against Gomez or, worse for him, a rejuvenated Brown.

The 2014 election cycle will also feature a governor’s race to top the ticket, so electoral dynamics will be different as more Independents will be motivated to vote out the incumbent party after eight years. For its part, in order to re-capture the governor’s office and perhaps even the Senate seat, the GOP must fire up its base and find candidates that appeal to Independents.

Though this wasn’t the outcome they were hoping for, it’s not an entirely gloomy picture for the Massachusetts GOP. This election allowed the state party to gain valuable experience, build organizations, and its bench. The president’s popularity, currently sagging even in Massachusetts, will also be a factor in 2014.

And so it goes, one day after the election, we’re already on to the next.

Editor’s note: Full disclosure: John’s spouse works at the firm Gabriel Gomez left prior to running for the U.S. Senate. John says, “They were professional colleagues, though they worked in different areas of the firm.”

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Tags: Boston, Election 2014, Mass. Senate, Scott Brown

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  • Greenzo

    Election ‘fatigue’…?
    See: First World Problems.

  • maraith

    Until the Massachusetts GOP stands up to its national party, it will be doomed to be on the defense through every election. The Republican candidates in this state have to say what they will do to oppose the right-wing crazies in control of their national party and do this loudly and early in the campaign or they will fail time and again.

    • Darren Stevens

      Here here! I said as much yesterday in another forum. Until the national GOP is purged of the Tea Party poison there will be very little success for the GOP in MA. Scott Brown did squat in part because of who he is and what he was up against with the GOP lunatics. We desperately need a 2-party system that works.

      • Vandermeer

        Lunatics… that’s an apt word!

  • jefe68

    B listers in Washington? Politics is not a Hollywood movie.
    Elizabeth Warren is not some light weight like Brown was.
    What did Brown do when he was in DC, not much.

    The reason Brown was not seen was he’s going to run again.
    I hope Markey is up for it. I would love to see Brown lose again.

    • Vandermeer

      C’mon Ben Affleck … we need you in 17 months.

  • jayhoward

    It really underscores the kind of no-character chump Scott Brown really was. This first showed up during his original “independent” campaign when he won and then went on to be a highly partisan Republican sycophant of Mitch McConnell but was proven again during his mean-spirited debates and ad hominem attacks on Warren. Then, when his party and candidate needed him, he was nowhere to be found.

    Just another all-talk no-walk Republican chump.

  • J__o__h__n

    Don’t blame Scott Brown. He just endured two senate races. If he had wanted to be active in another he would have run himself. Gomez was a flawed candidate.

    Warren and Markey are new to the Senate, but Markey isn’t new to Washington and Warren is a national figure. Rand Paul, Rubio and Cruz are new to the Senate too but I wouldn’t describe them as B-listers either.

  • Vandermeer

    Jeje68, I agree. Elizabeth Warren has alot of clout with the entire U.S.!

  • Michael T Pellegrini

    I heard Gomez was a Navy Seal though.

  • ecfl

    Republicans only have a chance to win here statewide when there is not a presidential race on the same ballot because urban Dems show up. They didn’t show up for Coakley. So in 2014 when beautiful Brown runs for governor, Gomez should take another shot at Markey because he should be able ride the poster boy’s coattails. Despite both of them espousing views that are against the MA electorate views (gun control, gay marriage, women’s rights) they have a good chance at winning because Brown drives a truck and they both own uniforms and money. The only times Brown voted against his party in DC were when his vote didn’t matter and the GOP gave him a pass. They were right not to have national Republicans stump for them because the GOP is pretty much reviled in MA.

  • dbvader

    Stop misusing “begs the question.” It doesn’t mean “raise the question” or “prompt the question.” If you want to say “raise the question” use that term.

  • sjw81

    too bad he lost, a fresh independent instead of the career pol we got, always voting with his party and never thinking on his own what is best for usa

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