WASHINGTON – The race to replace John F. Kerry in the U.S. Senate will offer Massachusetts voters a familiar choice: a longtime Democratic officeholder against a fresh-faced Republican.
Democratic Rep. Edward J. Markey and Republican businessman Gabriel Gomez won their respective party nominations in a special primary election Tuesday, after a campaign overshadowed in the closing weeks by the Boston Marathon bombings.
Markey defeated fellow congressman Stephen Lynch, according to the Associated Press, while Gomez, a political novice, defeated former U.S. Atty. Mike Sullivan and state Rep. Dan Winslow.
Markey and Gomez will face off June 25 to see who will complete Kerry’s unexpired term. The winner will face another election in 2014 to serve a full six-year term.
Kerry resigned the Senate seat he had held for more than 28 years on Feb. 1 to become U.S. secretary of State.
Although Massachusetts remains a Democratic stronghold, observers see in the Markey-Gomez matchup some of the same elements that led to then-state Sen. Scott Brown’s upset win over Democratic Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley in a 2010 special election to replace the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy -- largely based on the candidates' resumes.
Markey, 66, is the longest-serving member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, first winning his seat in 1976.
Gomez, 47, is a former Navy SEAL who was born in Los Angeles to Colombian immigrants. A recent Boston Globe profile of Gomez began by saying his resume "reads as though it might have been compiled by a team of Republican consultants trying to craft the perfect candidate."
Gomez could attract national attention as the GOP seeks to reshape its public perception among Latino voters. The first words uttered in Gomez’s lone television ad were in Spanish.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement that Gomez was "the right candidate at the right time" for Massachusetts voters "tired of out-of-touch politicians and a dysfunctional Washington." Markey, Preibus said, "won’t offer anything new."
"I think it’s the best outcome for Republicans on a number of levels," said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "You’ve got to look at Gomez as what Republicans want and need in candidates. And there’s a really nice generational contrast with Markey."
The race could hinge on whether Gomez's personal story can overcome the traditional Democratic advantage in the Bay State. Markey's campaign called Gomez "a typical Republican, and the first domino for the national GOP seeking to take control of the Senate and enact an extreme agenda."
State and national Republicans concede that it takes almost a perfect storm for them to win any federal election in Massachusetts. Brown saw just that in 2010 when he campaigned successfully to be the "41st vote" to block an overhaul of the national healthcare system just as President Obama was struggling to sell the public on his plan. The healthcare bill became law anyway.
Brown had more experience in electoral politics than Gomez, who is making his first run for public office. Brown lost his bid for a full six-year term to Democrat Elizabeth Warren in November.
"You almost could not re-create the circumstances that helped Scott Brown win," Duffy said. "Does it become a competitive race? Not immediately -- and it may never. But it’s really going to be a lot more interesting."
[Updated, 7:17 p.m. April 30: This post has been updated to include comments from Reince Priebus and Markey.]