Saturday, March 9, 2013

Massachusetts Senate Race 2013

Hi all,

Tremendously busy with work, teaching, and hosting a speaker series program (including former congressional candidate Richard Tisei) at Nichols College over the past couple of months. This has kept me away for this blog (good excuse anyway), but now with a spare morning I need to communicate my thoughts about the upcoming special senate election.


There are two candidates for the Democratic nomination, US Representative Ed Markey of Malden and US Representative Stephen Lynch of South Boston.

Markey in Congress since 1976, is the more liberal candidate and is backed by the liberal base of the Democratic Party.  He has a sizable campaign war chest and based on two polls conducted over the past week is in the lead position.  However, this is mainly due to him having somewhat higher name recognition than all of the other candidates in the race - both Democrats and Republicans.

Lynch has been in Congress since 2001.  He is a traditional blue-collar Democrat with considerable union support.  He is certainly the most moderate Democrat in the Massachusetts delegation.

The party base appears to be fully behind Markey.  Markey has also been endorsed by former senator John Kerry.  Given the typical low turnout in a special election primary, the smart money is that this support will benefit Markey as Lynch will need to pull a high turnout among independents and the relatively small conservative wing of the party.

Lynch does benefit from being more "natural" among voters and on the campaign trail as opposed to Markey's rather stiff persona.  This primary will hinge largely on GOTV efforts and who can increase their name recognition.  However I see Markey being hard to beat in the primary and the general election at this point.

Republicans will have a three-way primary.  This is after all of the "first tier" candidates such as Scott Brown, Richard Tisei, and Kerry Healy declined to run.  The candidates are State Representative Dan Winslow, former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez, and former US Attorney Michael Sullivan.  There has been no polling of this primary race as of yet, but all analysts agree that GOP primary turnout will be very low.  As with the Democrats GOTV and advertising will propel one of these candidates to the June 25 general election.

I normally want to be cautious in predicting a winner this far in advance with the campaign barely underway.   However, I will say that Ed Markey has a 90% or greater probability of winning the seat.  Here's why:

The real fight is for the Democratic nomination.  The party base with a few exceptions, are squarely lined up behind Markey and he will draw well from high-turnout liberal suburbs.  Lynch will do better in traditional blue-collar communities, but it looks like the better-organized Markey is going to be using the same coalition that propelled Elizabeth Warren into the Senate. This is a formidable machine and the more socially conservative Lynch will be a lightening rod generating opposition from the liberal base.

Party activists, liberals, and minority voters will be energized and gotten to the polls by the aforementioned party machinery - most of whom did not want a contested primary in the first place and will overwhelm Lynch.  Lynch's hope is that his union base and moderates and independent  voters can help him pull of a surprise and defeat the "machine".  Tall order!

In the June general election, it cannot be understated that Massachusetts is a behaviorally Democratic state and simply is loathe to place a Republican in Washington.  Brown's election was a fluke of a strong Republican candidate against a  weak Democratic candidate in Martha Coakley and a "sleeping" Democratic organization.  This also was driven by the nationalization of the healthcare issue in 2010.  This is VERY unlikely to recur this time around.

The Tea Party Factor - the eventual GOP nominee will be painted (fairly or unfairly) as a hardcore social conservative who shares extreme tea-party values.  In socially libertarian Massachusetts this has long been the bane of the GOP and will continue to be as long as the national party is perceived (somewhat unfairly) to be squarely to the right of Attila on the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage.

Name Recognition - in a low turnout election, organization and name recognition simply benefit Markey more than any other candidate.  He also has ample funds to overwhelm the other candidates in a barrage of advertising.

Early Predictions - as always subject to change!

Democratic Primary:  Markey 58% - Lynch 42%

Republican primary - unknown, but I think Sullivan probably has the most name recognition and existing organization, thus I predict Sullivan gets the GOP nod.

General Election:  Markey 56% - Sullivan 44%

The one spot for the GOP is that their candidates  - although very likely to lose - will garner positive attention and this may help the party in the 2014 state election. Voters tend to focus on the fiscal rather than social issues instate elections and this also provides the opportunity to do some badly-needed party building.

Looking forward to revised predictions and analysis as this short race heats up!


The Prof