By Marjorie Nesin
---- — When word got out Tuesday night that Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr is considering a run to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat, the reaction on Cape Ann was swift.
By Wednesday morning, Cape Ann residents and political leaders were expressing their support for a Tarr run and volunteering to join the effort.
Yet Tarr said Wednesday he still needs time to think about the option, reiterating that he will announce by Monday whether he will seek the seat that opened when John Kerry was appointed Secretary of State. While the decision hinges on factors including a compressed campaigning period, Tarr said the idea of leaving his seat as Cape Ann’s senator is also a consideration.
“I love the role I have currently,” Tarr said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I am unwaveringly committed to the people of Cape Ann and the people of our district and our state. (But) one of the reasons that I would do this is if I thought I would be more effective in contributing at that level than I can be now.”
Cape Ann Republicans and Democrats alike Wednesday were urging Tarr to plunge into the challenge, hoping the minority leader, often praised for his work across the aisle, will emerge as a bipartisan leader in Washington D.C., too.
Rockport Selectman Paul Murphy, a self-described “lifelong Democrat,” said he and likely many others who check the Democratic box on voter registration cards would line up behind Tarr.
”I’m so thrilled that he’s representing us, he’s a bipartisan guy who continues to look for the common ground,” Murphy said. “He is everything, in my mind, that we need in Washington.”
John “Gus” Foote, a former longtime Gloucester city councilor and longtime Republican who crossed party lines to endorse Congressman John Tierney last fall, said he values Tarr for much more than just his Republican label.
”I have no problem with supporting him, not because he’s Republican, but because he listens to the people and that’s the important thing,” Foote said. “If you call him, he’s here and he gets back to you.”
Tarr said he began considering his candidacy, at the urging of many, when former U.S. Senator Scott Brown turned down the opportunity to run in the special election, which will be decided in April 30 primaries and a June 25 general election.
”I think that’s when a lot of people across the state started thinking about it,” Tarr said. “He certainly would have been the preemptive favorite.”
If Tarr runs in the special election and loses, or even drops out, his Massachusetts Senate seat will be waiting for him. While Tarr called the opportunity to keep his seat win or lose “appealing,” Tarr said he would examine any race, whether for Senate, governor or otherwise, as its own individual opportunity.
“I’m not just looking for somewhere else to go. I love what I do and I’m firmly committed to it,” Tarr said. “I have the ability to bring to Washington a sense of trying to find common ground, of not compromising on principal but finding a way forward. There is a deep polarization in Washington and it would help having someone with long-standing experience in being able to find common ground.”
Still, those Massachusetts residents pulling for the Grand Old Party like the odds.
Lucas Noble, who heads Gloucester’s Republican City Committee, said he supports Tarr, and added that the special election makes it all the more attractive for one of the state Senate’s few elected Republicans to run.
“He doesn’t have to give up the seat he has now ... That would be too high a risk to take when we only have four Republican state senators,” Noble said.
Tarr said he is weighing two major obstacles before he will make a decision on candidacy. For starters, collecting 10,000 certified signatures of support for candidacy by the end of February will prove no easy task, Tarr noted.
”The biggest hurdle is actually getting the signatures by the 27th,” Tarr said. “I’m still in the process of looking at the situation and trying to make a good decision. I don’t want to start down the path until I’m 100 percent committed.”
Tarr will need to prove he can garner financial support too. At the end of last year, Tarr held about $189,000 in cash in his state fund-raising account, according to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. But a U.S. Senate race would require funds raised in the millions of dollars.
”One of the things we’re examining is if we’re able to raise a sufficient amount of money to be able to communicate a strong message,” Tarr said.
But Tarr has overcome at least one former roadblock. People who long questioned whether a perceived aversion to air travel would suppress Tarr’s reach for higher office can rest assured that the need for flight will not keep Tarr grounded.
The 49-year-old state senator lived 47 years never travelling by plane, first because the necessity never arose and later because air travel became a “what if.” Then at 47, Tarr decided to step off the tarmac.
”It was something I decided I needed to tackle,” Tarr said.
After travelling the last couple of years in flight, Tarr said, he has become “accustomed” to that mode of travel, jetting to Washington D.C., New York and Florida on various occasions.
“I don’t consider it to be an impediment. I do not fear it. I don’t find it unpleasant,” Tarr said Wednesday.
If Tarr chooses to enter the race, he will join at least two Democrats, Congressman Stephen Lynch of South Boston and Ed Markey of Malden and declared Libertarian candidate Daniel Fishman of Beverly. Two other Republicans have also announced potential runs. On Tuesday, Rep. Dan Winslow, R-Norfolk, launched an exploratory committee to weigh a run for Senate. And, Governor’s Councilor Jennie Caissie, a Republican, is “seriously thinking about” candidacy.
Richard Tisei, who preceded Tarr as Senate Minority Leader and lost a tight race for Congress to Tierney in the fall, announced over the weekend that he, like Brown, would not seek the seat.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.