Voters across Cape Ann — and across Massachusetts — will head to the polls Tuesday in the primary phase of the state’s special U.S. Senate election in three years.
Tuesday marks the party primaries on both the Democratic and Republican sides in the accelerated race to take the Senate seat long held by John Kerry, now the nation’s Secretary of State, turning over a Senate seat for the second times since the clerks expect a very low turnout even as the U.S. Senate seats from Massachusetts have been in constant flux since the death of Edward M. Kennedy in August 2009.
The race to succeed Kennedy also included December pirmaries on the way to then-state Sen. Scott Brown’s win over Attorney General Martha Coakley in January 2010. But while Elizabeth Warren ousted Brown in his first run for a full term last November, Keey’s seat became vacant when he was appointed to the Secretary of State’s post in January of this year, touching off the current run while William “Mo” Cowan, appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick in February, holds down the seat until after the special general election, set for June 25.
Three men are vying for the Republican nomination and two for the Democratic nomination on voters’ ballots tomorrow. The latest polls have shown Congressman Ed Markey, D-Malden, in the lead for his nomination over fellow Congressman Stephen Lynch, D-South Boston, and Cohasset businessman Gabriel Gomez in the lead for the GOP nomination.
But large percentages of likely primary voters reported they are open to changing their minds. And a majority of Massachusetts voters – 52 percent — are enrolled as unaffiliated, meaning they can go to the polls today and choose to voter the primary for either party.
All polling places across the state will be open from 7 a.m,. to 8 p.m.
On the Democratic side, a Western New England University poll that surveyed voters between April 11 to 18, with results announced last week, showed Markey, first elected to Congress in 1976, leading Lynch by about 10 percentage points, 44-34 percent, but with a full 21 percent undecided, and 36 percent of responding Democrats told the pollsters they could change their minds.
Markey received the blessing of the Democratic establishment, picking up early endorsements by many prominent Democrats, including Kerry and Caroline Kennedy, and getting the backing of Coakley last week.
Lynch has highlighted his blue-collar roots and former job as an iron worker and union president.
He held socially conservative views on abortion and gay marriage for years, some of which he said have evolved over time, generating some heat from liberal Democrats. And Lynch has tapped into a key jobs issue for Cape Ann voters, backing a push by the fishing industry to maintain an interim rule that would ease catch limits that will bring dire landing cuts beginning Wednesday – the May 1 start of the new fishing year — and to grant more flexibility within the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Markey has backed extending federal aid to the Northeast groundfishery, which was recognized as an “economic disaster” by the Department of Commerce last September, but has maintained that the Magnuson Act is sufficiently flexible to serve fishermen and the need to end alleged overfishing.
Lynch also picked up a pair of Gloucester endorsements over the weekend, with Mayor Carolyn Kirk and former mayor and current Councilor-at-large Bruce Tobey both coming out in favor of the South Boston congressman. Lynch also got the backing earlier of city councilors Sefatia Romeo Theken, Joe Ciolino and Greg Verga, along with former councilor and longtime Republican John “Gus” Foote and former seven-term state representative Anthony Verga.
Richard Padova, a professor of history and government at Northern Essex Community College, said that Markey, as the establishment-backed candidate running a safe campaign, is in position to maintain his front-runner status.
“It’s still Markey’s to lose,” he said.
On the Republican side, the same Western New England University poll showed Gomez leading the pack with 33 percent support. Michael Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney and Plymouth District Attorney, was next with 27 percent, and state Rep. Daniel Winslow trailed them both with 9 percent, according to the poll. Yet, a full 30 percent were still listed as undecided, and the poll showed a whopping 59 percent of likely Republican primary voters willing to change their minds.
Padova said those candidates have been a little rougher on each other because of the opportunity for Republicans of picking up a Senate seat in another special election, and the outcome is not clear.
Brown as precedent?
“They know it’s a Democratic state and is going to be difficult for a Republican to win,” Padova said. “But they’ve taken some consolation that Scott Brown did it three years ago. If he could do it, then maybe one of these relative unknowns can do it.”
Gomez has been highlighting his bootstraps story, business experience and his service in the military, though a letter he wrote to Gov. Deval Patrick asking to be named interim senator caused him some problems when he expressed support for some Democratic positions.
Sullivan has been campaigning as a conservative, earning him attacks from Democrats for being out of step with Massachusetts.
Prior to winning his current representative seat in the State House, Winslow served as a Wrentham district court judge and a lawyer in Mitt Romney’s administration who has tried to present himself as an ideas-driven Republican who will look out for small business.
Staff Writer Douglas Moser contributed to this story. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com, or you can follow him on Twitter @EagleEyeMoser.