BOSTON Democratic U.S. Rep. Edward Markey and Republican former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez won their party primaries on Tuesday, setting up a race between a 36-year veteran of Washington politics and a political newcomer for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by John Kerry.
Markey, of Malden, defeated fellow U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, of South Boston, in the Democratic primary while Gomez, a Cohasset businessman, bested former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and state Rep. Daniel Winslow in the GOP primary, according to unofficial returns. The special election is scheduled for June 25.
The race to fill the seat Kerry left to become U.S. secretary of state has been overshadowed by the deadly Boston Marathon bombing, and the candidates had to temporarily suspend their campaigns.
Even before the April 15 bombing, the campaign had failed to capture the attention of voters compared with the 2010 special election following the death of longtime Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Former Republican Sen. Scott Brown won the seat, surprising Democrats, but was ousted last year in another high-profile race by Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.
Markey, 66, led all the other candidates in fundraising and had won the backing early on of Kerry and a large segment of the Democratic establishment, compared to Lynch, a conservative, self-described “pro-life” Democrat who was dogged in part by his decision to vote against President Obama’s 2010 health care law.
Gomez, 47, was virtually unknown in Massachusetts politics before announcing his plan to run for Kerry’s seat earlier this year.
Gomez, the son of Colombian immigrants, celebrated his outsider status, wearing his lack of Washington experience as a badge of honor. Gomez also had a compelling life story, learning to speak English in kindergarten before going on to become a Navy pilot and SEAL, earn an MBA at Harvard Business School and launch a career in private equity.
Gomez cast himself as the new face of the Republican Party, which has struggled to reach out to minority populations following the defeat last year of GOP presidential candidate and former Gov. Mitt Romney.
Gomez has introduced himself in Spanish in campaign ads and on the stump in a state where Hispanic voters are a small but growing slice of the population.
Sullivan, an early favorite among conservative Republicans, touted his law enforcement and national security background, having helped investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and the failed attempt to blow up an airliner using shoe bombs.
But Sullivan collected the smallest amount of campaign contributions of the three GOP candidates and was unable to run any statewide TV ads.
Winslow, a former judge from Norfolk who served as chief legal counsel in Romney’s administration, finished third despite putting $150,000 of his own cash into the race.
While Gomez easily outraised his challengers he also loaned his campaign at least $600,000.
The campaign, the third U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts in the past four years, was marked in part by the relatively low voter turnout. That turnout was likely hampered by the April 15 bombing and the search for the bombers, which consumed the attention of residents across Massachusetts.
Markey, who has served in the U.S. House since 1976, and Gomez will be on the June 25 special election ballot along with Richard Heos, an independent from Woburn.
Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick had named his former chief of staff, William “Mo” Cowan, to fill Kerry’s seat on an interim basis until after the special election.
Earlier WBUR Profiles: