Progressive Ed Markey gears up for a tough Senate race

I just got off the phone with longtime Congressman Ed Markey, the newly-minted Dem Senate nominee from Massachusetts, and it’s clear he’s expecting a very tough and hard fought race against his GOP challenger, former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez.

Markey is preparing to go after Gomez hard on women’s issues and on the need for more regulation of Wall Street (two themes that lifted Elizabeth Warren to victory last year). He will cast Gomez as an opponent of Obama’s agenda and will hammer his refusal to accept a “People’s Pledge” to keep outside money out of the race — which puts Gomez out of step with Scott Brown, who agreed to such a pledge.

A new Public Policy Polling survey shows Markey leading by only four points, 44-40, with Gomez up among independents, 47-31.

“There are going to be polls coming out every single day — you just can’t pay attention to them,” Markey told me when I asked if the poll suggested an uncomfortably close race. “I just won by 16 points three days ago in the primary. Not one poll had it right.”

Markey – who has backing from national progressives because of his liberal positions on health care, energy, the environment, guns, and other issues — will aggressively attack Gomez for his work for an anonymously funded group of former SEALs and other military personnel behind a documentary that accused Obama of jeopardizing troop safety by leaking confidential information to take credit for Bin Laden’s killing — a potential liability in a blue state where Dems outnumber Republicans by three to one.

“The vast majority of people in Massachusetts disagree with Gabriel Gomez on the work that the president did to kill Osama,” Markey said. “But I think it’s very telling that he is now aligning himself with the secret money that the Super PACs brought to the rest of the nation in 2012 but was kept out by Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren. By not signing the People’s Pledge, Gabriel Gomez is making himself the poster boy for politics as usual.”

“I’m going to challenge him every single day to take the People’s Pledge — to keep these secretive third party groups from coming into our state and polluting our airwaves with negative ads,” Markey added. Dems expect a huge amount of outside money to pour into the state.

Republicans are planning to aggressively attack Markey as too liberal and elitist to win over blue collar independents and even Democrats in places like South Boston — a similar line of attack leveled at Warren. (A Republican needs lots of crossover Dems to win in Massachusetts. The PPP poll puts Gomez at 21 percent among them, suggesting reluctance among conservative Dems to embrace Markey, at least for now.) Republicans also point to Markey’s long service in Congress — and Gomez’s relative youth and newcomer status — to argue that an outsider has a real chance of defeating a longtime politician. As NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring puts it: “Ed Markey is a stale candidate and his campaign has the feel of a ’78 Ford Pinto. Gabriel Gomez is the future, Ed Markey is the past.”

Asked to respond to those arguments, Markey brushed them off. “Gabriel Gomez is the candidate of the past,” Markey said. “He’s embracing the Republican playbook. He is against a woman’s right to choose. He is against banning assault weapons and magazines. He supports devastating cuts to Social Security that would hurt our seniors. He’s opposed to a woman’s right to choose. All of those issues resonate very powerfully in Massachusetts.”

“He is arguing that President Obama’s economic agenda is wrong,” Markey continued. “In Massachusetts we have an unemployment rate that is far below the national average. He is out of step with what has worked for Massachusetts.”

Warren showed that a Dem can get elected statewide in Massachusetts on an aggressively populist, Wall Street-focused message — despite the fact that Republicans attacked her as the Godmother of Occupy Wall Street. Markey — a longtime economic progressive himself — appears to be planning an equally populist campaign.

“The people in Massachusetts completely rejected the argument of Governor Romeny and completely embraced Elizabeth Warren’s message that we needed to make sure there was not a casino set up on Wall Street,” Markey said. “I believe we need strong regulation over Wall Street. Gabriel Gomez is saying that he wants to relax all those regulations. What Gabriel Gomez wants to do is not have a watchdog on Wall Street, but rather have a lapdog.”

Pressed on whether this race is shaping up as much tougher than he or others had expected, Markey said: “I campaigned for 14 hours a day for four and a half months. And I’m going to continue at the same pace until Election Day. I’m not stopping.”

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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Greg Sargent | May 3, 2013