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Mass. Senate Election Heats Up as Reps Declare Intentions

Kerry's Vacant Seat Contested in Democratic Party

Heights Editor

Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 22:02

With one week to go until the Feb. 27 deadline for candidates to collect the required 10,000 signatures to run in the primaries for the United States Senate special election in Massachusetts, the candidate field has finally begun to take a more definite shape.

The Democrats have, from the start, established a notable set of contenders to compete in their April 30 primary, putting forth U.S. Representatives Edward Markey, BC ’68 and BC Law ’72, and Stephen Lynch, BC Law ’91. Either Markey or Lynch, with their prominent current positions and significant financial advantages, would seemingly be able to overcome any potential Republican challenger come the general election in June.

Markey currently holds a six-point advantage over Lynch, according to a poll by public radio station WBUR. This margin, however, is slimmer than expected, based on the fact that Markey has earned the endorsement of many influential Democrats, including former U.S. Senator and current Secretary of State John Kerry, BC Law ’76, whose vacant Senate seat the candidates are looking to fill.

The poll also noted that Markey and Lynch garner roughly equal ratings on favorability and statewide name recognition. Among registered Massachusetts voters, 29 percent view both candidates favorably, while 19 percent have unfavorable views of Markey and 12 percent have unfavorable views of Lynch.

As the primary nears, Markey and Lynch look to participate in a series of debates, though the two candidates are in dispute over their number and nature. Markey has proposed two general debates and four issue-specific debates, as opposed to Lynch, who has advocated for at least four debates on wide-ranging issues.

Some special interest groups have begun aligning with a Democratic candidate: Markey has earned the support of teachers unions and Lynch is being backed by firefighters. Lynch also hopes to win over more blue-collar voters as a result of his background as an ironworker.

Though each has gained support from special interests, both Markey and Lynch have agreed not to let these outsider groups influence the election financially. Last week, the candidates signed a “People’s Pledge” to keep outside groups from running ads and sending out mailers on behalf of either man—the deal seeks to hold candidates accountable for all communication to voters.

This arrangement, similar to one signed by Scott Brown, BC Law ’85, and Elizabeth Warren during their Senate race last year, doesn’t explicitly prohibit ads funded by outsiders, but rather strongly discourages them through a unique provision: if a group runs an ad on a candidate’s behalf, that candidate must donate 50 percent of the ad’s cost to a charity of his rival’s choosing.

The question remains now whether the Republican candidates will follow suit and sign a similar agreement, an action for which both Markey and Lynch have advocated.

“Outside money has no place in the Massachusetts Senate race,” Markey said in a statement. “This election should be focused on issues, not outside-group attack ads. I urge all candidates in this race to join us in committing to the people’s pledge and say no to the outside special interests who want to influence this election.”

On the Republican side, two more candidates have come forward to join the primary ballot that already includes state Representative Daniel Winslow and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez. Former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, BC ’79, is seriously exploring a run, while Norfolk-born businessman Sean Bielat has filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission.

Sullivan, also a graduate of Boston College High School, served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1991 to 1997 and was acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives under George W. Bush from 2006 to 2009. He has said he will run if he can collect the required number of signatures himself without hiring an external firm to help.

Bielat is no stranger to Massachusetts elections, as he has run for Congress and lost twice, first to Barney Frank in 2010 and then to Joseph Kennedy III in 2012.

When surveying the GOP field as a whole, Republican strategist Rob Gray noted that the Republicans could gain an advantage since it is a special election and voter turnout is lower—meaning fewer Democrats will be voting—though the party still faces an uphill battle.

“The political landscape is pretty good,” Gray told “The college kids are home for summer, and a lot of them are often campaign volunteers. It’s just very difficult for an unknown candidate to establish himself statewide and raise money in a limited amount of time. … I’m disappointed that Brown didn’t run. A case can be made it could have been a lay-up for Scott Brown.”

Brown, who recently joined Fox News as an on-air commentator, told WFXT-TV Monday that he is considering running for governor next year, matching rumors of a run that have been circulating since he announced he would not partake in the Senate special election.

“Of course I’m thinking about it,” Brown said. “I’m thinking about a lot of different things. But right now the best thing I can do for myself and for my peace of mind, and I think for the people of Massachusetts, is just to hang tight and recharge and be active.”

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