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Rothenberg: Are Democratic Insiders Missing the Boat in Massachusetts as Special Election Draws Closer?

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Markey, above, is expected to be the Democratic nominee for Kerry’s seat later this year. Strategists see Markey as the best candidate to go up against Brown, who is only a week removed from the Senate. But a primary challenge may be just the thing to toughen Markey before he faces the former senator, Rothenberg writes.

I don’t doubt Markey’s ability to put together a campaign or the DSCC’s diligence in making certain that he does so, but it’s never a bad idea to have a test run before the actual race.

It would be different, of course, if a primary would produce a deeply fractured party and a dramatically weakened, ideologically extreme nominee. But there is no indication that would happen if Markey faced a primary from Rep. Michael E. Capuano, Rep. Stephen F. Lynch and/or state Sen. Ben Downing.

Capuano’s late November fundraising report showed him with $491,000 in the bank, while Lynch had $740,000 on hand. In contrast, Markey had more than $3.1 million, and given his endorsements and contacts, he would have no trouble outraising primary opponents.

Lynch is a conservative Democrat by Massachusetts standards, while some voting ratings put Capuano slightly to Markey’s left. But the differences between the three men are small on the issues. We aren’t talking then-Indiana Sen. Richard G. Lugar versus Richard Mourdock or then-Delaware Rep. Michael N. Castle versus Christine O’Donnell here — two instances where the GOP primary produced a much less desirable (or even unelectable) nominee.

Markey has a few obvious general election vulnerabilities that Brown would try to exploit in a special election, and it might be wise for the long-serving Democrat to address them sooner (in a primary) rather than later (against Brown).

After 36 years in the nation’s capital, even working for issues with which many in Massachusetts agree, Markey is inextricably linked with Congress and everything that Congress has done. Given Congress’ current standing, Markey’s long service could be a mixed bag.

Brown has already made an issue of Markey’s residence. Though the Democrat owns the house in Malden, Mass., in which he grew up and technically resides, he really hasn’t “lived” in the house in years — at least not the way you and I live in our homes.

And finally, while Massachusetts voters don’t have problems sending liberals to Washington, D.C., Markey’s very liberal record will give Brown, who is certain to talk about his own “independence,” plenty to shoot at.

Obviously, these vulnerabilities aren’t necessarily fatal, and the state’s Democratic bent is almost certainly a bigger problem for Brown than any or all of Markey’s vulnerabilities are for him.

But a primary would give Markey an opportunity to address these concerns in a more favorable political environment, making the issues less dangerous for him in the special election when the charges will come from Brown.

Yes, party strategists always hate primaries of their own. But Democratic primaries last year in Connecticut and New Mexico didn’t stop the party from holding those open seats, and a primary in Massachusetts later this year would prove whether Markey is as strong a nominee as some assume and test him under fire. And you can bet that there will be plenty of fire in the special election against Brown.

Stuart Rothenberg (@stupolitics) is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report (rothenbergpoliticalreport.com).

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