Candidates walk ‘fine line’ on terrorism in Mass. Senate race

Updated
This digital composite shows(L-R): Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Stephen F. Lynch meets with the press following debate at WBZ studios on APril 22, 2013...
This digital composite shows(L-R): Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Stephen F. Lynch meets with the press following debate at WBZ studios on APril 22, 2013...
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

As the Massachusetts Democratic primary to fill the seat vacated by John Kerry speeds ahead, both Senate candidates have found the need to walk a “fine line” in addressing the unexpected and tragic Boston Marathon twin bombings from last week.

Both campaigns paused amid the ongoing investigation, and that lost time in the critical homestretch seemed to have exacerbated the rush that Democratic Reps. Stephen Lynch and Ed Markey both feel this week heading up to Tuesday’s primary vote.

The congressmen are back on TV after taking their ads down last week, and each evoke the attacks and terrorism in very different ways. Markey talked about his work to strengthen regulations post-9/11, while Lynch made a direct-to-camera reflection on the bombings.

But it’s a pro-Lynch PAC that more overtly used last week’s bombings that could roil the race the most, Bay State Democrats believe.

Automated calls from a labor-aligned super PAC began Wednesday, the Boston Globe reported, and immediately invoked last week’s tragic series of attacks that killed four and injured hundreds others.

“All of us share the shock and sorrow of the recent events in Boston. But as Americans, we’re not going to let the perpetrators of this tragedy or anyone else stop our democracy from moving forward,” the calls said. “Wouldn’t it be great to have a real working person representing you in the U.S. Senate? Not just another millionaire. Someone who truly understands the day-to day problems facing regular working families. Someone like Steve Lynch, the highly skilled and well educated ironworker who put himself through law school at night.”


Lynch’s campaign nearly immediately denounced the calls, which were taken down on Thursday, and denied any involvement in them.

Still those calls threaten to damage Lynch’s momentum following a series of strong debate performances this week where he aggressively went after frontrunner Markey on his votes against creating a joint terrorism task force. But the Boston Globe reported today that same task force is not the same one that oversaw the investigation into the bombings.

So far, the robocall is the most overt place the bombings have been used in these campaigns. The calls went out to scores of likely primary goers, which longtime Massachusetts Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh said could backfire on Lynch regardless of the denouncement.

“You have to walk a very fine line,” said Marsh. “If anyone’s seen as trying to politicize what happened last week, they will pay a big price.”

“This was the Lynch I thought I was going to see throughout this entire race,” she said of Lynch’s aggressive performances. “But did those debates make a difference? It’s probably too little too late.”

SECURITY MESSAGING

Aside from the contentious debates, both men approached their latest ad campaigns differently. Lynch’s new ad released this week is him talking directly to camera, and the only mention of his Senate campaign arrives in the federally required disclaimer at the end.

“My heart goes out to the victims of this unthinkable terrorist attack,” Lynch says in the spot. “I want to thank those who saved lives and the police whose heroic actions brought it all to an end. In the face of this tragedy, our city and state offered a stunning example of the strength of the human spirit. We hold in our hearts those we lost. But we will get through this together and work toward a brighter day.”

While both men were regularly on television and working in official capacity post-bombings, several Democrats have noted it was Lynch who was immediately more visible.

At a briefing the day after the bombings, Lynch was right behind Gov. Deval Patrick, the state’s two senators and other federal officials. Lynch had been a longtime friend of the family of 8-year-old Martin Richard, killed in the bombings, while another victim, Krystle Campbell, was Markey’s constituent.

“Lynch was ubiquitous, but I don’t think anyone was thinking of him in context of the Senate race,” said Marsh.

Markey’s new 60-second ad, in rotation with others that point out his differences with Lynch on social issues, talks of his work to increase cargo screenings post-9/11, and features a flight attendant who typically worked on the same flight path of the hijacked plane that originated in Boston.

A source close to the Markey campaign said that the spot had been produced weeks before the bombings, and other Democrats note that his work on cargo screenings is something that Markey has highlighted before.

“Congressman Markey came without any fanfare just to offer his support, his condolences, and to let us know he was standing with us,” United Airlines flight attendant Sara Nelson says in the ad. “With these new threats after Sept. 11, all of the security issues were so much more acute, so much more in our face. It’s just ever-present in our thoughts, so it became so much more important to us.”

Lynch’s campaign doesn’t dispute Markey’s work post-9/11, but they say it’s last week’s events that are predominant in voters’ minds.

“At time when cops are exchanging gunfire on residential streets in Watertown, Markey is talking about nuclear weapons on cargo ships,” said Lynch senior adviser Scott Ferson. “[Markey] has been a leader on that, but people are worried about terrorists on our street. They’re both important issue–one just happens to be more relevant right now.”

“There’s one week left to go, and Lynch is lobbying false and desperate attacks on Ed Markey’s leadership,” countered Markey spokesman Andrew Zucker. “He’s been a national security leader on homeland security issues since 9/11.”

In the latest public polling, conduted partially during the aftermath of the bombing, Markey had a 10-point lead, but private polling has shown Markey with a greater advantage. However, an automated poll from Lynch’s campaign showed him behind just six points.

Still, the underlying problem for both campaigns–and one that  may ultimately give Markey, who’s had the financial edge and the backing of most of the Democratic establishment, the edge–is that voting for their next senator is the furthest thing from many Massachusetts voters’ minds as they sort out how their city and state can return to normal.

“Voters aren’t paying attention and even with these lively debates in the last couple of days, I don’t see any talking about it even in political circles,” Boston Globe statehouse bureau chief Frank Phillips told Chuck Todd on Wednesday’s The Daily Rundown.

The winner of the primary will face off against either former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez, former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan or state Rep. Daniel Winslow in the June 25 special general election.

Candidates walk 'fine line' on terrorism in Mass. Senate race

Updated