After the Boston Marathon bombings froze the Massachusetts Senate campaign in place for a week, the candidates are set to resume their activities in earnest with the election just eight days away. They are left with little time to alter the outcome of a race that had attracted limited attention even before the attack.
“The fact that there is a Senate election a week from tomorrow is the furthest thing from people’s minds,” said a Massachusetts Democratic strategist unaffiliated with the campaigns who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the race candidly.
Voters head to the polls next Tuesday to choose their nominees for a special election to fill the seat once held by Secretary of State John Kerry. After the campaign trail was nonexistent for a week, the race restarts looking a lot like it did before the bombings.
It’s been a pretty sleepy contest so far, with Rep. Ed Markey (D) keeping up his lead over fellow Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch, and a pair of lower profile Republicans waging a competitive campaign for the GOP nod.
Last Monday’s bombing effectively halted the campaign for a week as candidates suspended their normal politicking and pulled down ads. Stumping gave way to pausing to remember the victims and dealing with a search for suspects that came to an end late Friday.
The front-running Markey is planning to go back on the air this week, his campaign said. He spent the last week attending vigils and receiving briefings from law enforcement officials, a spokesman noted.
“Now that that this immediate episode is over, and people are starting to return to normalcy, we are resuming normal campaign activities in a way that's respectful of the events of this past week, and the people of the Commonwealth who were affected,” said Markey spokesman Andrew Zucker.
Lynch, who also suspended his campaign, was very visible last week in his official capacity, appearing at news conferences with authorities, doing national media interviews and traveling to Boston on Air Force One with President Obama. Lynch’s district includes Boston, whereas Markey’s consists of suburban areas.
Lynch and Markey will debate Monday and Tuesday, offering voters at least two more side-by-side comparisons. Both campaign have stuck to largely positive messages thus far.
Much of the Democratic establishment, including Kerry, is behind Markey, who has outraised Lynch and outpolled him. Surveys show Markey is the clear front-runner. An upset would be unlikely, but far from impossible, though, given the unpredictability of turnout.
Lynch has won against the background of tragedy before, notching his first congressional primary victory Sept. 11, 2001. He’s hopeful for strong turnout in the wake of last week’s attack, a spokesman said.
“He has been through this before. What he saw back then was turnout tripled that day over expectations because people wanted to show their faith in American Democracy,” said Lynch spokesman Conor Yuntis.
Some observers are not expecting many voters show up at the polls. Even before the attack, the race had not been receiving a lot of attention. One reason: The retirement of longtime Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (D) triggered the first open race in two decades, capturing outsize attention from the political class.
“There are quite a few politicians in Boston who think being mayor of Boston is a far better position to run for than U.S. senator,” said a Massachusetts Republican granted anonymity to speak candidly.
On the GOP side, former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez is intimately familiar with last Monday’s attack because he ran in the marathon, finishing shortly before the first bomb went off near the finish line. After suspending his bid, Gomez, who was uninjured, resumed his efforts over the weekend, doing eight events Sunday, according to his campaign.
“We are trying to be respectful of this tragedy that shook everybody to their core while keeping in mind this is an important election, and that democracy doesn’t have to stop because of a terrorist attack,” said Gomez spokesman Will Ritter.
Polling shows Gomez is in a tight race with former U.S. attorney Mike Sullivan, who is running to his right. Sullivan resumed his campaign over the weekend, his campaign said. “We are getting back in gear,” spokeswoman Alicia Preston said.
A third Republican candidate, state Rep. Dan Winslow, is also competing for the nomination.
The special general election is scheduled for June 25.