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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Massachusetts Special Senatorial Elections: Another Look at the Candidates


Congressman Ed Markey gives the thumbs up alongside his wife Dr. Susan Blumenthal after kicking off his campaign for Senate at the YMCA in Malden, MA on Feb. 2, 2013.



Later this month, Massachusetts voters will decide between the Republican and Democratic candidates during the special election to replace John Kerry in the U.S. Senate. Given the concurrent special Senatorial election in South Carolina, which pits former governor and infamous adulterer Mark Sanford against Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, who is best known as the sister of satirist Stephen Colbert, the months ahead could make for interesting political theater.

Two senate seats hang in the balance, and the results of these elections could impact the political calculus in Washington and the strategies of each party going into the 2014 midterm elections.

While the race in South Carolina could go either way, the contest here in Massachusetts is all but a forgone conclusion. With thickly lined pockets, outstanding progressive credentials, big-name endorsements, and more experience than the rest of the field combined, Ed Markey will, in all likelihood, cruise through a marginal primary challenge into a laughable general election against an inexperienced Republican challenger in a deeply blue state.

On paper, Stephen Lynch would seem an even match for Markey; his popularity among unions could prove a powerful fundraising conduit, and his relatively centrist positions, especially on financial matters, could appeal to voters frustrated with a polarized congress.

Despite these ostensible advantages, Markey holds what appears to be an insurmountable lead: the latest poll from Public Policy Polling finds Markey with a favorability rating of 67 percent and a 17 percentage-point advantage over Lynch.

The Massachusetts GOP may be holding out hope for another miracle, a la Scott Brown’s upset special election victory in 2010. And this field of candidates is not entirely unelectable: Gabriel Gomez, for example, has appeal as a political outsider, and his ethnic heritage could prove beneficial.

Former State Senator Dan Winslow falls into the ideological archetype of the electable Massachusetts Republican, sharing essentially the same social policy views as Scott Brown and garnering respect among civil libertarians with his reform-oriented drug policy position. Both candidates currently trail former U.S. attorney Michael J. Sullivan in a fairly close race in which about half of the potential voters are undecided.

Barring the improbable, the winner of the Republican primary will be inconsequential, and Ed Markey will be the next United States Senator. But while the race may not be particularly competitive, it has provided rare insight into what I predict will be a growing trend in the near future: the inherent surfacing of the contradictions in the Democratic Party.

The Democrats have always billed themselves as the “big tent,” open to a wide range of ideological positions. However, in recent years Democrats, under the stewardship of President Obama, have attempted to consolidate a wide range of issues into a party platform that would build an invincible national coalition. In doing so, they have put themselves in an untenable position, trying to find a balancing point between concerns that are frequently mutually exclusive. This most evidently manifests itself where traditional economic concerns are at odds with environmental ones.

The Democratic Party of old was the champion of the workingman at all costs, a position defended vigorously by Stephen Lynch in the most recent debate. His support of the Keystone Pipeline – which draws the ire of environmentalists, but would create several thousand American jobs – is sensible policy, but anathema to idealist liberals who weigh the abstract threat of global warming as more important than job creation.

In the debate, Lynch voiced his concerns about both the Affordable Care Act and the massive federal debt in defiance of popular opinion in this liberal state, once again on the grounds that they negatively impact employment. Markey, on the other hand, backed the ACA with alacrity and has a track record of putting the environment ahead of the worker.

Many of Steve Lynch’s views on job creation are flawed; he is an old-school protectionist and union benefactor who denounces NAFTA and supports exploitative collective bargaining practices that eliminate non-union jobs at the expense of the union workers. Despite this, his concern for the working man seems genuine, and his self-described ideological independence and refusal to march lock-step with his party could make him a moderating voice in the upper chamber of our dysfunctional legislative branch.