Mass. Senate race grinds to a halt after Boston bombing

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 16: National Guard soldiers guard a roadblock near the scene of a twin bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 16, 2013 in Boston,...
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 16: National Guard soldiers guard a roadblock near the scene of a twin bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 16, 2013 in Boston,...
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

With just two weeks to go until primaries in the Massachusetts Senate special election, campaigns on both sides have come to a screeching halt after Monday’s tragic Boston Marathon bombing.

It’s too soon to say when active politicking from any candidate may resume ahead of the April 30 primary, but ultimately the stop in campaigning may not make a difference in the final outcome of either the primary or the general election contest on June 25.

Democratic Rep. Ed Markey remains the frontrunner, both in the primary and general election, to succeed now-Secretary of State John Kerry, and his primary face-off with fellow Rep. Stephen Lynch never reached the competitive level some national Democrats feared.

And when former GOP Sen. Scott Brown, who lost last November to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, passed on running in the special election, that put Republicans at an even greater disadvantage in this Democratic-leaning state.

In the wake of Monday’s attacks, all the candidates – Democrat and Republican – have suspended campaign activities and pulled their ads from the air for the foreseeable future. The third Democratic debate scheduled for Thursday has now been cancelled.

According to one Massachusetts Democratic strategist, the pause in the campaign “probably freezes the race” where it was – advantage to Markey.

“[Markey] was doing better in the debates, which was a shock,” said the Bay State Democrat. “With Lynch, what worked for him in smaller races, he couldn’t replicated it statewide, with a short timeline, and not as much money.”

Lynch was visible in the immediate wake of the attacks, but in an official capacity. With a large portion of his district representing South Boston and Beacon Hill, Lynch has appeared on msnbc’s “Morning Joe” and was at the FBI’s press conference Tuesday morning. Lynch is also a longtime friend of the family of eight year-old Martin Richard, who was among those killed in the blasts.

Markey appeared Tuesday evening msnbc’s “Hardball” and “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” live from Boston.

Privately, Democrats believe the lack of campaigning may not make a difference in deciding the winner of the Democratic contest. To many, the race has become a foregone conclusion, with Markey never really ceding his frontrunner status and national Republicans left with an uphill climb without Brown on the ballot.

Meanwhile, the three Republicans running for the seat – former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez, former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and state Rep. Dan Winslow – have also suspended campaign operations. While the GOP race is seen as a dead heat, according to one GOP source, Gomez had a narrow lead in one recent internal campaign poll, just ahead of Sullivan.

Gomez was actually running in Monday’s marathon and finished just minutes ahead of the explosion. He appeared on several media outlets, including msnbc’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” to give his own eyewitness account of the blast.

There could have been the makings of an upset in the Bay State race early on. Markey hadn’t run in a competitive election since his first race more than 30 years ago, and some thought that Lynch, a former iron worker, could pose more of a threat, particularly with a strong labor presence on his side. But Lynch has been underfunded and never caught fire, and it was Markey who actually got the endorsements of the United Auto Workers and the SEIU. Markey also won endorsements from key parts of the Democratic establishment, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Kerry, and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s widow, Vicki.

Lynch has the backing of several building trade groups and the state’s largest firefighters and nurses’ union, and one Democratic source speculated those groups, and even other labor supporters, could still come out strong for Lynch. Turnout is expected to be low, adding another dash of uncertainty to any projections.

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who will be a guest later this week on msnbc’s “Daily Rundown,” had been spending heavily on online advertising and mobile ads against Lynch over his support for the Keystone XL pipeline.  But Steyer also stopped his campaign activities in the wake of Monday’s bombings.

If both Democratic campaigns are off the air and the streets in the closing days, it’s Lynch who might need the final sprint to make up lost ground.

According to one national Democrat, Markey has a comfortable lead in internal polling and has far outspent Lynch throughout the campaign, while continuing to amass a strong ground game.

Mass. Senate race grinds to a halt after Boston bombing