Commentary: The U.S. Senate Race That Isn't A Race

“We are entering a brave new world and just as we have rules of the road, we now need rules of the sky,” said U.S. Sen. Edward Markey
“We are entering a brave new world and just as we have rules of the road, we now need rules of the sky,” said U.S. Sen. Edward Markey

A recent WBUR poll must have surprised readers: It revealed that Democratic U.S. Sen. Ed Markey was way ahead of his GOP challenger, Brian Herr, 58 percent to 30 percent.

The surprise was this: There’s a U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts?

To call it a race suggests that there are candidates running. But there is virtually no news coverage of the contest. Herr is less known than most unknowns. If the WBUR poll asked respondents to name the Republican Senate candidate, he probably wouldn’t hit 1 percent. (Unless there are a lot of Hopkinton voters in the sample. Herr is a selectman in that town.)

Markey, our invisible senator, has an obvious strategy: Pretend there is no race, stay under the radar, and thus make no public mistakes that could boost the opponent. The only interesting story I’ve seen about Markey lately was a fictional report in The Onion, the satirical website: “Senator to try submitting rejected bill to Canadian parliament.”

It’s a shame there is no real contest for such an important office in a state with many qualified leaders. How could the state GOP fail to recruit a strong candidate for the Senate?

In the old days, before attorneys could advertise, political parties often recruited eager lawyers to run for offices they couldn’t realistically win; it was a way for the lawyers to gain recognition and for the parties to meet their primary obligation of giving voters a choice on the ballot. But for years in this state, the GOP has failed to recruit candidates for most offices.

After Gabriel Gomez lost to Markey in last year's special Senate election, some Republicans hoped Gomez would run again. He ran a good campaign, putting in a lot of his own money so he could advertise and earn credibility. For a first-time candidate, he did well. But back then, President Obama and the Democratic Party were much more popular, so it’s understandable that Gomez appraised his chances in this one-party state and decided to wait for a more opportune time.

Other GOP prospects were considered then, too. Dan Winslow ran unsuccessfully in that same special Senate race, yet impressed a lot of people as a smart, feisty candidate. But he was offered a job out-of-state and decided to leave the frustrating business of politics, at least temporarily.

Another Republican prospect also left the state. What was his name? Hold on, it’ll come to me… Scott Brown! Yes, that’s it. He had some experience in running for the Senate in Massachusetts, but wanted to move to his New Hampshire summer home. Vacations are so much easier when you don’t have to leave the house.

It’s not as if Massachusetts is necessarily missing out on having an inspiring, edifying contest. Many Senate races around the country are hitting new lows in insulting the voters’ intelligence. Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, mocked TV spots in senate races — showing some ads that absurdly focused on rifles and snowmobiles.

Still, it would’ve been nice to have had a Senate race here. Remember the Weld-Kerry debates — very high-level and substantive? Well, don’t expect anything like that in the next six weeks.

It’s generous of New Hampshire to share their Senate race with us. But I imagine some Massachusetts voters will be disappointed in November when they don’t see the names Jeanne Shaheen or Scott Brown on their ballot. That’s easily remedied next election, of course. It’s easy to move out of this state. Would-be Republican candidates do it all the time.

Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst for WBUR.

Headshot of Todd Domke

Todd Domke Republican Political Analyst
Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst for WBUR.



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