In U.S. Senate Race, It's Markey's Organization Vs. Lynch's Word Of Mouth

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Democratic U.S. Reps. Stephen Lynch and Ed Markey on Monday agreed to six debates before their U.S. Senate primary on April 30. And they are wrapping up gathering signatures in time for Wednesday's deadline to make the primary ballot.

On the campaign trail, the two candidates are taking different approaches. Markey has money and a sophisticated organization and is drawing from the campaigns of Sen. Elizabeth Warren and President Obama. Lynch is relying on union support and word of mouth.

Out On The Trail

Democratic U.S. Reps. Stephen Lynch, left, and Ed Markey (AP)
U.S. Reps. Stephen Lynch and Ed Markey (AP)

Lynch walks into the Celtic Cafe, a pub in New Bedford's waterfront district. It's packed with people eager to hear Lynch. Many are New Bedford firefighters and their families.

"Oh, is this your gang here?" Lynch asks one of the firefighters.

The firefighters are very much Lynch's gang. The Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts have endorsed him.

These firefighters say they can help Lynch by talking to their families and friends. The Lynch campaign is counting on this word of mouth.

"Obviously, a special election at the end of April is not a time when people are normally accustomed to voting for the Senate, so it's going to be tough to drive folks out, and we're going to be really relying on our volunteers to drive that vote," says Lynch's communications director, Conor Yunits.

When I visited Lynch's campaign headquarters, in Quincy, a steady stream of volunteers showed up at the front desk to offer help.

Markey has yet to open his campaign headquarters, in Charlestown. But the Markey campaign has been empowering volunteers to set up their own networks all over the state.

The campaign's field director, Carl Nilsson, says Markey has thousands of volunteers who have already organized thousands of events.

"Some people will be focusing on the digital push, and what is our presence on Facebook and Twitter?" Nilsson says. "Some people will be focusing on volunteer coordination. Some people are focusing on door-knocking or canvassing and, yeah, we have people who as volunteers take responsibility for entire communities and whole regions."


Back at the Celtic Cafe, Lynch is connecting face to face. The firefighters see Lynch as one of them. A former iron worker, he's still a union member.

"It's good to see a union guy," one of the firefighters tells Lynch.

One by one, the firefighters in the room tell Lynch about their families.

"My father was a lineman, union guy," one man says.

New Bedford is home to many Democrats concerned with the bread-and-butter issues Lynch is emphasizing. He hears how the financial collapse in 2008 affected the city's firefighters.

"It's tough," one firefighter tells Lynch. "I've been laid off, back in '09."

The New Bedford Fire Department is back up to full strength, thanks to the stimulus, but with sequestration looming, cutbacks in funding for first responders are a concern again.

The next day, in Boston's South End, Markey meets with a group of people who cannot endorse him because they represent nonprofit groups, but he clearly connects with them.

One by one, representatives of the organizations, which use volunteers from AmeriCorps, tell Markey about the work they do. At the end of the hour, he puts the work of AmeriCorps in a philosophical context.

"The greatest Jesuit philosopher of the 20th century, his name was [Pierre] Teilhard de Chardin, and Teilhard had a concept," Markey says. "So his concept was a concept of the nuosphere, the common brain of the planet, of all of us, and the inter-connectivity of all of us, and how in each generation, we had a responsibility to try to perfect the planet."

Markey's foray into philosophy goes over well with the organizers.

The next day, he shows up in Fall River at Barcelos Bakery. The event is hosted by owner Sara Rodrigues, who likes the fact that Markey helped stop the liquefied natural gas terminal in Fall River.

"And he wants to bring wind power, renewable energies, I'm very big into that," she says.

The issues Markey talks about — the environment, gun control, women's rights, gay rights, immigration reform, health care, education, scientific research — excite the activists there.

In the middle of the day, people who volunteered for Warren fill the bakery, ready to volunteer for Markey. But Markey is not the natural campaigner Warren turned out to be. Someone stops Markey to whisper a reminder in his ear to thank his hosts.

"Oh. And may we... may we say a word on behalf of the Macelo family?" Markey says.

"The Barcelo Bakery," someone says, correcting him.

"The Macelo Bakery here," he says.

After decades of easy re-election to Congress, Markey's campaigning skills are rusty. And that could be a problem as he tries to beat back a challenge from Lynch. After all, Lynch won more votes than any other member of Massachusetts' House delegation in last fall's election.


This program aired on February 26, 2013.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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