Markey, Gomez win MA Senate primaries despite low turnout

Posted at: 04/30/2013 11:32 PM
By: Dan Levy

PITTSFIELD, Mass. - U.S. Rep. Edward Markey and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez emerged as winners Tuesday night in the Massachusetts special primary elections.

Markey, a Democrat, and Gomez, a Republican, will square off June 25 in a special general election to determine who replaces John Kerry in the U.S. Senate.

Despite "big" victories for both Markey and Gomez, 'big" is definitely not the way anyone is describing the voter turnout numbers from Boston to the Berkshires.

Even long-time poll watchers were describing Tuesday's voter turnout as "slower-than-slow" or lackluster.

"We anticipated there might be a low count," said Joanne Chelstowski, an election warden from Pittsfield.

At the Williams School on Bushey Road, where Chelstowski was keeping an eye on things all day long, only 15 percent of the eligible voters turned out. Carol Killian was one of them.

"If I hadn't read the paper," Killian admitted. "I would have forgotten too."

When so many voters stay away from the primary polls, does it mean people don't care who represents them in the U.S. Senate?

"I don't think that's true," Killian theorized. "I think that because it's happening at an odd time, right after (the) Boston (Marathon bombings), there hasn't been a lot of publicity and it's not high on people's radar."

Skidmore College Political Science Professor Ron Seyb says it's difficult even for professional pundits like him to predict what turnouts are going to be like, but he believes the luster probably wore off the Massachusetts primary when Scott Brown bowed out of the race.

"I think a lot of people, particularly in the wake of the Warren victory over Brown, that there's really not going to be much of a contest on June 25th," Seyb opined.

Even though Seyb believes, by nature, the political landscape is constantly changing, he says there are many variables that could affect future dynamics involving voter turnout.

The Boston bombings probably played a role in the primary turnout this year he says, but anything in the future could also become a distraction for voters, from a Red Sox playoff run to the upcoming trial of Whitey Bulger.

"Most people could find a lot of reasons, a multitude of reasons not to pay attention to politics," Seyb said. "Particularly in the current political environment where we have congressional approval ratings in the single digits."

Seyb says it's hard for him to believe the outcome of the June 25 general election would affect the dynamics of the current debates in Washington involving immigration or gun control, but if Markey were to win in June -- which polls indicate he is likely to do -- Democrats would have a 55-45 advantage in the Senate, one seat closer to reaching a 60-40 majority next year in the mid-term elections. That, Seyb says, could be a game changer.