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Obama urges Massachusetts Democrats to avoid repeat surprise

Evan Vucci / AP

President Barack Obama, accompanied by Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate, Rep, Ed Markey, waves to the crowd during a campaign rally for Markey in Boston, Wednesday, June 12, 2013.

With less than two weeks until the Massachusetts Senate special election, President Obama traveled to the Bay State on Wednesday, exhorting the state’s Democratic voters to get to the polls for the June 25 vote in an effort to prevent a repeat of the last special election that sent Republican Scott Brown to Washington in 2010. 

“I need Ed Markey in the United States Senate,” President Obama told a packed crowd in Roxbury, warning that complacency could be politically fatal, as Democratic Rep. Ed Markey clings to a high single digit lead over Republican newcomer Gabriel Gomez ahead of the election to succeed now-Secretary of State John Kerry.

Calling on Democratic voters to “work with the same focus and passion” that helped Obama cruise to a 23 point win in the Bay State and sent Democrat Elizabeth Warren to a victory over Brown in 2012, Obama said the work wasn’t over just yet. 

“You can’t just turnout in a presidential election --  you’ve got to turn out in this election,” said Obama. “You’ve got some work to do right now in 2013.”

Praising Markey’s nearly four-decade long tenure in Congress, his humble beginnings as the son of a milk man in nearby Malden, and his “strong and steady” record, the president said he needed another Democratic vote in the Senate, particularly as debate moves forward on immigration and other matters this summer – and slammed Republicans for their unwillingness to compromise and work across the aisle.

“We’ve got to have some Democrats like Ed Markey who will stand up and do the right things,” said Obama. “Ed has a track record and that’s why you know what he’s going to do when he’s a Senator.” 

“We’ve got to keep  going forward, not backward, and that’s what Ed Markey is going to help us do,” said the president.

Low turnout is the biggest worry among Democrats in this solid blue state, as they are constantly haunted with the unthinkable that shouldn’t have happened two and a half years ago. In January 2010, the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat slipped through their fingers, thanks to the perfect storm: a lackluster nominee in Democrat Martha Coakley, an energizing GOP candidate in Brown, and a national mood fueled by health care backlash that was beginning to swing against them. 

To avoid a repeat, Democrats are taking every precaution to avoid repeating recent history, including spending as much as necessary to boost Markey in the final days, and deploying whatever cavalry necessary, including Vice President Joe Biden hosting a fundraiser for Markey on Tuesday evening, and the Boston Herald reports that former President Bill Clinton will campaign with Markey this weekend. 

“I think most people view this as Markey’s race to lose, and everybody want to make sure that absolutely positively doesn’t happen, no matter what,” said veteran state Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh. “People believe Markey will win, but nobody wants to chance it.” 

At Tuesday’s fundraiser, Biden warned against the same lethargy, noting that low turnout in special contests has produced unexpected results in the past, and Obama’s 23-point victory there last fall shouldn’t breed complacency.

“There’s a big difference in this race,” Biden said. “Barack Obama’s not at the head of the ticket. And that means those legions of African-Americans and Latinos are not automatically going to come out. No one has energized them like Barack Obama. But he’s not on the ticket, so don’t take this one for granted.”

Republicans have championed Gomez as able to pull off the unlikely upset, and on the surface he has all the appeal party leaders need, and want, as they try to expand a struggling GOP.  A young, Hispanic moderate former Navy SEAL who had never run for public office before, he’s worked to play up the differences between himself and his party.

In a contentious Tuesday night debate, just the second of three times the two will meet, Gomez aggressively worked again to separate himself from his party and paint himself as a moderate, centrist voice, pledging to support a $10 minimum wage, pay equity for women and gay marriage. But Markey pointed out Gomez is still more in line with his party on base issues, such as opposing an assault weapons ban and supporting the Keystone XL pipeline. 

While there are few signs that Republicans have the same advantages they had in 2010, Obama’s trip Wednesday is the latest reminder that Democrats aren’t taking any chances.

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