As soon it became clear that Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) would win the special election for United States Senate in Massachusetts, the media began to spin it as some sort of a referendum on President Barack Obama’s agenda.
“Mr. Markey, 66, succeeds John Kerry, who stepped down this year to become secretary of state, and he will provide a reliable vote for President Obama’s agenda,” wrote Katharine Seelye at The New York Times, “which seemed to be just what voters wanted.”
Alexander Burns and James Hohmann of Politico dismissed the notion that a wave was building similar to 2010, stating that Markey’s win is “another sign of [a] quiet 2014.”
“The state that heralded the GOP wave of 2010 by sending Republican Scott Brown to the Senate decided against a repeat performance Tuesday,” wrote the pair. “In the Bay State’s second special Senate election in three years, Democratic Rep. Ed Markey coasted to victory against GOP businessman Gabriel Gomez.”
“It’s a return to politics as usual in Democratic Massachusetts,” they added, “and perhaps an early indication that after back-to-back midterm election tsunamis, the country might be in for a more conventional 2014.”
The Politico reporters eventually conceded that “[i]t’s too early in the campaign cycle – and the data points are too limited – to say with absolute confidence that 2014 will be a ho-hum election.” But that’s well after they tried to establish their narrative.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has dismissed the tone the media is trying to establish in advance of 2014.
“The notion that one special election in the most liberal state in America represents a national trend is absurd,” NRSC Communication Director Brad Dayspring told United Liberty via e-mail. “Imagine the reaction if Republicans and conservative groups had to outspend our opponents by millions to compete in a state like Utah? The national media would call it desperate and a sign of doom.”
Gomez, the Republican candidate, was an unknown before he jumped into the special election. He is a businessman and a first-time candidate. Markey has served in Congress since 1976, representing a suburban Boston district. Needless to say, his name has been out in the public view for some time.
Massachusetts is known as a blue state. Democrats have a significant voter registration advantage, at 35.7% to Republicans 11.1%. Massachusetts has not had elected a Republican to Congress since 1997 and only elected one Republican Senator (Brown) since 1972. And aside from Brown, no Republican Senate candidate in the last 30 years had received more than 45% of the vote.
Democrats and supporting groups spent heavily in the state to avoid a repeat of 2010. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, pro-Markey groups spent over $4.8 million in Massachusetts — that includes $1.364 million from the Majority PAC, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s super PAC, and another $695,848 from the the DSCC itself.
Groups supporting Gomez spent just under $1.6 million.
Despite the clear numbers and spending advantage, Markey underperformed from President Obama’s showing last year, where he took 61% of the vote, defeating Gomez, 55/45. A win is a win, as some will undoubtedly say. But it was an expensive win against a second-tier Republican candidate in an solidly Democratic state.
Dayspring notes that this could be a bad omen for Democrats in less friendly states. “The fact that Democrats had to outspend Republicans by nearly 4:1 and send in every liberal all-star to win in Massachusetts most keep Democrats like Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, Mark Begich and Kay Hagan awake at night,” he wrote. “How much will Democrats have to spend in states like Louisiana, West Virginia, South Dakota, North Carolina, Arkansas, Montana, Alaska, and New Hampshire to compete.”
Landrieu, Pryor, Begich, and Hagan all serve in states that went for Mitt Romney in 2012. If Republicans manage to pull of wins in those states as well as pick up a few open seats next year, they will take control of the Senate.