WASHINGTON — With two weeks before Massachusetts votes in another special election for U.S. Senate, national Democrats are making a major play to retain the seat as a new poll shows a competitive race.
As part of the closing push, President Obama will attend a rally Wednesday in Boston with Rep. Edward J. Markey, the Democratic nominee. Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden will join former Vice President Al Gore and Vicki Kennedy, widow of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, for a fundraiser in Washington to benefit the Grassroots Victory Fund, a joint committee helping Markey and state Democrats.
Over the weekend two of Markey’s House colleagues, Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles, were also holding events in the state. Democrats continue to see an upside in nationalizing the race in a state that Obama won handily in November, and where Elizabeth Warren unseated incumbent Republican Scott Brown in one of the cycle’s marquee Senate contests.
The Markey campaign’s latest television ad takes direct aim at his opponent Gabriel Gomez’s claim that he’s a “new kind of Republican,” citing statements on an assault weapons ban, abortion and Social Security. Democrats have also been quick to point out support that Gomez’s campaign has received from national Republican organizations, which have said the Massachusetts race is the first step in their effort to retake control of the U.S. Senate.
Gomez, a former Navy SEAL who was born in Los Angeles to Colombian immigrants, has focused more on his biography while trying to out-campaign his Democratic rival. He’s selling voters on the idea of change, saying Markey’s 37 years in Congress is long enough.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain have campaigned for Gomez in the state. But Gomez has otherwise sought to distance himself from the national GOP, saying in a speech last week that if he were elected, Republicans “will consider me to be a pain in the butt. And I am OK with that.”
Gomez has not had the same kind of national grass-roots support that Brown leveraged in his upset 2010 victory, when he vowed to be the 41st vote to block Obama’s proposed healthcare law. But a series of controversies in Washington may be proving a drag on Markey.
A Suffolk University poll released Monday afternoon showed Markey leading Gomez 48% to 41%, with 10% undecided. The poll of 500 registered voters was conducted June 6 to 9. Markey led by 17 percentage points in a Suffolk poll last month.
“Markey’s core ballot test number has fallen below 50% and recent Obama administration scandals, especially the Associated Press phone records scrutiny, have touched a nerve with likely voters who are holding back or no longer supporting Markey and President Obama with the same intensity,” said Suffolk pollster David Paleologos.
Obama has a 57% approval rating in Massachusetts, the poll showed, down from 63% last month.
The memory of Brown’s upset win in a 2010 special election is still fresh for both sides. The death last week of New Jersey Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg has created additional urgency for Democrats to hold the seat, or face seeing a second seat go to Republicans in a month. Gov. Chris Christie’s appointee to replace Lautenberg, fellow Republican Jeffrey Chiesa, is to be sworn in Monday.
The June 25 election was called after John F. Kerry resigned from the Senate to become secretary of State. Democrat William “Mo” Cowan was appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick to serve as interim senator until voters chose a candidate to complete Kerry’s unexpired term. The winner will face another election in 2014 for a full six-year term.