Today’s Globe reports that soon-to-be former Senator Scott Brown took to the talk radio airways yesterday to swipe at Congressman Ed Markey, a likely opponent in the upcoming special election to fill the US Senate seat now held by John Kerry. Brown asked whether Markey, who has been a Congressman since 1976, “even lives here anymore?”
I was encouraged by Brown’s comments. It shows that he learned nothing from the drubbing he received in November by Elizabeth Warren. In that campaign, his sophomoric obsession with Warren’s ethnicity failed to win over a majority of the voters. This time, Brown seems ready to make snarky cracks about Markey’s ties to Massachusetts the centerpiece of his campaign, a strategy that will probably find a receptive audience in those who spend time listening to talk radio, a demographic that is Brown’s base anyway. The irony is that Brown made these remarks yesterday on radio station WTKK on that station’s final day as a talk radio outlet. Because of anemic listenership numbers, WTKK is switching to all “electronic music” (whatever that is) and dumping its talk radio format. Elizabeth Warren’s eight point victory in November’s Senate race is further proof of the erosion of that same demographic.
That is not to say that Brown will be easy to beat in the special election. His base is strong and is far from disintegrated. If Democrats do not work extra hard to turn out their own supporters in the special election, just as they did in November, then Brown will be back in the Senate by Independence Day.
And that brings me to the Democratic nomination process. There is some amount of hand-wringing in pro-Democratic quarters about the process of selecting a nominee; claims that “national interests” or “the party elite” are forcing Ed Markey down the throats of Democratic primary voters at the expense of other possible candidates such as Congressman Mike Capuano of Somerville. I’m not one of the hand-wringers. I know that to defeat Scott Brown in a statewide special election, the entire Democratic Party apparatus must have a single-minded focus from day one on turning out the Democratic vote. If that is done, then the Democratic nominee, whoever that is, will win the election. Because a divisive, costly primary fight will diminish the odds of that happening, I am all for uniting behind a single candidate right from the start.
To me, uniting behind one candidate is more important than the identity of that candidate. I like Mike Capuano and his stand on the issues so he would be fine with me. I do think he still carries the taint of having lost to Martha Coakley in the last special Senate election in the Commonwealth. Had Coakley gone on to win that Senate seat, Capuano would now be a more attractive candidate for this Senate seat. But Coakley did not win; she lost to Scott Brown. Whether it’s fair or not, Capuano gets some of the blame for helping to launch the Scott Brown juggernaut. As illogical as that may be, I think that makes it easier for many Democrats to set aside Capuano’s interest in running this time and to unite behind someone else.
And that someone else is Ed Markey, the target of Scott Brown’s barb on the final day of talk station WTKK’s existence. Markey was elected to Congress in 1976 and has served ever since. Along with other members of Congress elected that year (and in every year since), Markey attended an orientation program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Markey’s story was so unique that the Harvard Crimson wrote a lengthy profile of him at the time, a profile that is readily available online and well worth reading. As the following excerpt from that story explains, Markey’s Congressional career was launched not by his pedigree or his wealth or his roster of friends. He prevailed in a tough Congressional campaign because as a second term state representative in the Massachusetts legislature, he had stood up to the entire leadership of the House and had prevailed. Here’s that story:
But the key factor for Markey was television. While in his second term in the State House, Markey pushed for passage of a bill to eliminate part-time district court judgeships in Massachusetts. Part-time judgeships were lucrative for judges, who were allowed to maintain private law practices, and for politicians, for whom they were patronage gold mines. It was no surprise, then, when the House leadership, under Speaker Thomas McGee of Lynn, fought against Markey’s bill. It passed despite their objections, and McGee, known around the State House for his pettiness, gained his revenge by throwing Markey off the Judiciary Committee, and having his desk moved out into the hall.
All this happened last January, and because of it, Markey received the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Legislator of the Year award and was praised in many editorial columns. Looking for a theme for an advertising campaign, Markey’s political strategists pounced on the Judiciary Committee incident.
Markey’s one television commercial opened with a narration of the desk-in-the-hall scene along with a shot of Markey standing in front of a desk placed incongruously in a State House corridor. At the end of the spot, Markey folded his arms across his chest, looking stern and tough. “They may tell me where to sit,” he said, “but nobody tells me where to stand.”
Ed Markey is a fighter and I’m convinced that his decades in Congress haven’t dulled that trait. When people outside of his Congressional District get to know him better during the coming campaign, I think they will like what they see.