BOSTON — Like all special elections, the Massachusetts U.S. Senate election next month is expected to have a low turnout. That means that it’s a highly unpredictable race, in which every block of voters counts.
One crucial block of voters could be those who supported Stephen Lynch in the Democratic primary. Lynch has endorsed his fellow Democrat, Ed Markey. But will his supporters follow? Both Markey and Gabriel Gomez are courting Lynch voters, and they are up for grabs.
In addition to his former Democratic rival’s endorsement, Markey also has the endorsement of the unions that originally backed Lynch.
“We had to make the decision between Stevie Lynch and Eddie Markey; we had a choice between a friend and a brother,” said Ed Kelly, president of the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts. “And although Stevie Lynch is a card-carrying labor leader and done a great job for us as firefighters, Eddie Markey has a 97 percent labor record. He’s done a tremendous job for the last 37 years in Congress, and it was easy for us to be with him. So I’m very confident the firefighters are going to come out for Ed Markey.”
The building trades have also rallied behind Markey, and that’s enough for Bill Doherty, who talked about the race at a recent Little League practice at some Savin Hill ballfields.
“I’m with Markey all the way,” Doherty said. “I was with Steve Lynch in the first part of it, the primary, and we’re throwing all our support behind Markey in the final. I’m with labor. I’m a union construction person. We just feel as a whole construction trade that we’re going to stick with a guy that we know is going to listen to us and be on our side for jobs, and to help out the working class, and [I] just don’t feel like Gomez is there at all.”
But Scott Brown’s victory in 2010 showed that union workers don’t always follow union leaders. Markey found that out as he recently greeted pipefitters on their lunch break in the Longwood medical area.
“We need some welfare reform, brother,” one worker, who would not give his name, said to Markey. “Tired of the free rides, man,” he said, “tired of the free rides.”
The worker said he supported Lynch in the primary. As for the general election?
“Undecided at this time,” he said.
Southie And Braintree Are Key
Lynch’s neighborhood, South Boston, has voted for the winner in the past two Senate elections. Southie went for Brown in 2010, and for Elizabeth Warren last year.
Recently, Gomez worked the breakfast crowd at Southie’s Mul’s Diner, and left Bernie Auch — a Lynch supporter — impressed.
“I’m an ironworker,” Auch said. “[Lynch's] an ironworker. He’s blue-collar. He’s for the poor people, know what I mean? He’s for hard-working people. He votes with his conscience. He votes with a heart. I like this guy, too. He’s a down-to-earth guy. He’s not uptight. He’s not a right-wing nut.”
Auch said he would consider voting for Gomez.
“He’s more like Lynch,” he said. “I like Markey. He’s OK, but compared to Lynch, you go from blue collar to kind of white collar, you know?”
Braintree gave Lynch his biggest margin of victory in the Democratic primary; he took 81 percent of the vote. Gomez campaigned at the Olympian Diner there. And so did Markey.
“I’m going to be running for every vote, and I’m going to be delivering a message of optimism for our future in Massachusetts and our country,” Markey said at the diner.
At one of the booths, Markey ran into Bob Power.
“I’ll say hello to you, but I didn’t vote for you,” Power told Markey. Power voted for Lynch, in part because he disagrees with Markey’s strong environmental record.
“He’d shut down the nuclear plant, and I think that’s foolish,” Power said. “He’s too anti-nuclear, and I thought [of] the line that Lynch gave at the debate: ‘You’re for the fish, and I’m for the fishermen.’ ”
Power said he seems himself voting for Gomez.
Lynch voters are even beginning to appear at Gomez events. Susan Reuteman shows up when Gomez campaigns in Quincy.
“I like the fact that he’s a veteran,” Reuteman said. “I like the fact that he likes term limits, and it’s time for a change.”
Markey can count on some Democrats, like O’Donnell from Little League practice, to vote for him out of party loyalty.
But party loyalty is not enough for even some Democratic officials.
During the primary, a city councilor endorsed Lynch. This week, this city councilor took a phone call from the Markey campaign, and refused to endorse Markey. He didn’t want his name used because he doesn’t want to alienate his own party, but he said he could not support Markey in part because he does not want his next senator to spend the next six years in Washington. He said he has a perception that Markey spends all of his time out of state, except during campaigns. He said he’s thinking about voting for Gomez.
The Gomez campaign says it’s working aggressively to secure centrist Democrats and says it has received private assurances of support from around 20 Democratic elected officials around the state.