One week before the vote, Republicans are arguing that the Massachusetts Senate special election is within their grasp, even as polls and outside spending tell a very different story.
A Boston Globe/University of New Hampshire poll this weekend showed Democrat Ed Markey rising slightly to a double digit lead over Republican newcomer Gabriel Gomez, 54%-41%. The 13-point margin is larger than most public and private surveys, though both parties privately believed last week the race remained in the high single digits.
But while Republicans hoped Gomez–a young, Hispanic former Navy SEAL–could rekindle the energy Republican Scott Brown capitalized on two and a half years ago and pull an upset over Markey, whom even Democrats admit is an uninspiring campaigner, the political environment hasn’t recreated the conditions that helped Brown beat an uninspiring Martha Coakley in January 2010.
Gomez’s own consultants hoped a strong performance by the GOP nominee in the final debate could inspire Republican donors to help close the widening spending gap between the two.
An On Message Inc. polling memo released Tuesday by Gomez’s campaign showed the Republican down seven points, 47%-40%; campaign staffers argued that that there was still time to make up the gap–if Republicans believe the race is winnable. Public surveys last week showed a similar margin.
“It turns out that it really is hard to kill a Navy SEAL,” Gomez consultant Curt Anderson wrote in the memo, saying Gomez should be down even more after a barrage of negative attacks from Democratic groups and campaign visits by President Obama and former President Bill Clinton last week.
“Many of you have been complaining, grousing, and occasionally screaming about the fact that left wing interest groups from Washington are pouring money into this race on Cong. Markey’s behalf, while right of center groups sit on their hands and do nothing to help Gabriel,” wrote Anderson.
Anderson noted that Brown was down nine points just 10 days out before his win. But a key difference even many Republicans privately concede was that Brown was helped not just by Coakley stumbles but also by growing unrest about health care legislation and a worsening political climate for Democrats ahead of a disastrous midterm election that fall.
In a low turnout election, Democrats have worried that conditions could have been ripe for such another upset, and pulled out no stops to shore up Markey. Outside groups, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Senate Majority PAC, have hammered Gomez on air, hitting the former private equity investor’s business record and painting him as another GOP vote. But Democrats believe the millions are well spent–even for a seat that should be safely in their column.
While national Republicans have helped Gomez in coordinated spending, groups have made only small independent contributions: the Hispanic Leadership Fund and American Unity PAC paid for direct mail and voter contact, while the largest gift came from a new outside group, Americans for Progressive Action, which launched a $700,000 TV ad buy.
Gomez pounced on the attacks against during his final debate with Markey Tuesday evening. Gomez worked to paint Markey as a relic of Washington, asking voters to give him a chance for 17 months in the Senate compared to Markey’s 37 years in Congress. He highlighted his differences from his party on gay marriage and gun control, saying he could be a compromise vote in the Senate, working across the aisle to promote expanded background checks and comprehensive immigration reform.
“The only way we’re going to get anything done is if we have someone who will respect the other side,” said Gomez.
But Markey argued Gomez represented the “stalest” of “old Republican ideas,” pointing out he opposed an assault weapons ban and would vote for Supreme Court Justices that opposed Roe v. Wade.
The biggest flashpoint between the two came when Markey questioned whether Gomez, who has supported term-limits, told Arizona Sen. John McCain, the only big-name Republican to come campaign for the GOP nominee, he should have quit after his last term.
“No, you did not,” Markey said, challenging Gomez.
“Are you calling him a liar,” the moderator R.D. Sahl asked Markey.
“I’m saying that did not happen,” the Democrat pushed back.