Commentary Magazine


Are Obama’s Scandals Hurting Markey?

Any objective analysis of the special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts has to begin with the fact that 2013 is not 2010 and Gabriel Gomez is not Scott Brown. There are a number of reasons why Gomez is facing an uphill slog to duplicate Brown’s amazing upset in which the GOP snagged a seat in a deep blue state. With Politico reporting that Democrats are funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into this battle, it’s clear they are going all-out to ensure that this time the GOP won’t steal a safe Democratic seat. But recent polls are showing that Gomez is still in striking distance of Democratic Representative Ed Markey in the race to replace John Kerry in a seat that will again be up for grabs in 2014.

With only two weeks to go before the June 25 vote, Markey led Gomez by seven points in a Suffolk University poll, a considerable narrowing of the 17-point margin he enjoyed just a month ago. With Gomez lacking so many of the advantages that Brown had when he upset Martha Coakley, the question is why does this political neophyte still have a chance?

The answer may be found in the problems of the man who is flying into Massachusetts tomorrow to buck up Markey: President Obama. The president’s decision to involve himself personally in the vote is a sign of Democratic confidence, since Obama would be loath to intervene if he thought Markey was really going down to defeat. But the ability of Gomez to stay in a race that ought to be a cakewalk may be more about the general growing dissatisfaction with an administration mired in a trio of scandals than distaste for the political dinosaur that Democrats have nominated for the Senate.

The Suffolk poll showed that a majority of Massachusetts’s voters are not prepared to think the worst of President Obama in terms of any direct link to the Benghazi, IRS or press snooping scandals. But the high levels of distrust in government may be depressing enthusiasm for the Democrats at time when Republicans lack the advantages they had in 2010.

Gomez can campaign on his biography as a former Navy SEAL and successful businessman who is a new face seeking to oppose a veteran politician in Markey, whose ’70s-style haircut is a standing reminder that he’s been in Congress since Gerald Ford was president. But as a neophyte, he lacks Brown’s political experience as well as his natural charm. He also doesn’t have the ability to rally both his party loyalists as well as most independents that Brown had with his campaign against ObamaCare. While Markey is no political genius, he is not easing up in the way that Coakley did once she won the Democratic primary. As Brown’s subsequent attempt to hold onto his seat last year showed, the circumstances that produced his victory in this deep blue state were unique and not necessarily capable of duplication even with the same charismatic candidate.

National Review is reporting that Gomez’s internal polling is showing him virtually even with Markey. But even if we dismiss such a poll as partisan spin, the mere fact that he is seen in more credible surveys as trailing only by single digits may show that something is going on that ought to trouble Democrats. The accumulation of scandals that seems to grow by the day has to be hurting Markey and helping Gomez. It’s highly unlikely that the impact of these problems will be enough to allow Gomez to win, but the Democratic confidence in the idea that no one outside of Washington cares about Obama’s scandals is about to be put to the test and the and the results may not provide his party with much comfort.