Markey needs to step it up

Senator John McCain is in Boston today to support Republican Gabriel Gomez’ bid for the U.S. Senate race.  Gomez, a former Navy SEAL,  is expected to step up his attacks on Democratic Congressman Ed Markey for being soft on homeland security.  The “soft” votes can be explained, but to so-called independents parachuting late into this low-visibility campaign, in the wake of the marathon bombings, the issue could gain some traction.  What matters is how Markey handles his response.

At issue is a pair of votes against resolutions in 2004 and 2006 expressing sympathy with the victims of 9/11.  Does Gomez really think Markey lacked sympathy for the victims of 9/11?  Indeed, the “no” votes by the Congressman came because the resolution linked that terrorist attack to Iraq, which, as the Markey campaign has pointed out, was by then “debunked.”

Gomez is also quoted in the Globe  attacking Markey for first being for the Patriots Act, then against it.  Many legislators were.  The Patriots Act was passed in the aftermath of 9/11, but afterwards. many thoughtful supporters have wanted to modify it, believing it  overly broad and insufficiently attentive to civil liberties.

Markey’s primary opponent Stephen Lynch tried to pin Markey with being soft on security.  Despite having been a key player in seaport security, nuclear reactor security and related issues, Markey was caught flat-footed and found it difficult to explain the nuances of votes that were legitimate.

In fact, one of Markey’s biggest problems in this campaign is that there are too many times when he has seemed to answer questions obliquely, talking around something and quickly pivoting to prepared talking points.   When pressed by WCVB reporter Janet Wu yesterday to say whether President Obama should be held accountable for the Justice Department’s probe of Associated Press phone records, Markey made a quick shift to say “We need a shield law.”  That didn’t answer the question.

When Wu pressed Markey on releasing his tax returns (Gomez has released six years’ worth. Markey has never released his returns), he said “yes, and soon.” “Will you do it next week?” she said. He responded, “In the very near future.”   Those returns probably will be made public this week, but Markey’s refusal to be pinned down just reinforced a sense that he sometimes unnecessarily sidesteps issues and that he lapses into Washingtonspeak.

Gomez is trying to make a big deal of Markey’s being in Washington too long though he has no problem bringing in McCain, who has been in Congress almost as long as Markey.   The up side of Markey’s long experience is his expertise in law-making, negotiating on bills, actually getting things done.

Right now, this is Markey’s race to lose, but he can’t afford to sit on his lead.  He needs to ratchet up the energy of his campaign, something even some in his inner circle acknowlege. The winner of the Democratic primary is no longer the automatic winner of the general election.  Unlike when Markey first went to Washington, Democrats now make up only 37 percent of the electorate here, and unenrolled or independents are now 52 percent of Massachusetts voters.  Of those independents, only ten percent, according to some polling,  view Gomez unfavorably while 44 percent have an unfavorable view of Markey. This is where the battleground will be, and the upcoming debate could be important.

Given the shortness of the campaign and the lateness of the preponderant unenrolled to tune in, a guerrilla tactic by Gomez supporters, involving Swiftboat-like distortions of particular votes or playing to a majority’s frustration with Washington in general, could land some blows.  Unlike Scott Brown, Gomez has declined to take the People’s Pledge, curbing the flow of money from Citizens-United-spawned national independent groups and individuals.  If those forces decided the race is winnable for Gomez, their money could alter the outcome for Markey.

Gomez is not Scott Brown, who had 12 years of legislative voting record behind him before running for Senate. Gomez is either evasive or uninformed about many issues of concern. Notwithstanding Scott Brown’s pledge to be independent, whenever Mitch McConnell really needed Brown’s vote, he had it.  Gomez is likely to do the same.

Ed Markey is not Martha Coakley. But, while he is running a much better campaign than she did,  he is still not running the campaign that he is capable of.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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