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Low turnout for Massachusetts' special U.S. Senate election

Mass Senate I Voted Senate Stickers.jpg

 (AP)

Turnout was relatively light across Massachusetts on Tuesday as voters chose which Republican and Democratic candidates will win their party primaries and go on to campaign in the state's second special U.S. Senate election in four years.

The race to fill Secretary of State John Kerry's former seat has been overshadowed by the Boston bombings, though turnout in the city was running slightly ahead of another special U.S. Senate primary three years ago in part because of an additional local race on Tuesday's ballot, the state's top elections official said.

Even before the bombings, the campaign had failed to capture the attention of voters compared with the 2010 special election following the death of longtime Sen. Edward Kennedy. Former Republican Sen. Scott Brown won the seat but was ousted last year in another high-profile race by Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.

Two Democrats, both members of the state's congressional delegation, and three Republicans are vying for their parties' nominations.

A win would help Senate Democrats maintain a caucus edge of 55-45 as they press forward on major issues like immigration and gun control.

The Boston Marathon bombs disrupted the political race, forcing the candidates to temporarily suspend their campaigns. The bombings also brought national security and terrorism issues to the fore in an election that was expected to turn on questions of the economy, gun control, taxes, immigration and abortion.

The Democratic primary pits U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, who has staked out more liberal positions, against fellow Rep. Stephen Lynch, a former ironworker who has tried to appeal to the party's working- and middle-class base.

Lynch, 58, has had to defend his decision to vote against President Obama's 2010 health care law, while Markey, who won his first elected office while in law school, has fended off efforts to portray him as a Washington insider.

Markey, 66, is the better-funded of the two Democratic candidates, having raised $4.8 million through the end of the last reporting period, compared with $1.5 million for Lynch.

Markey has also benefited from outside spending. Of the more than $2.2 million spent by outside groups, nearly 84 percent went to Markey, an Associated Press review of Federal Election Commission reports found.

In the town of Wayland in his congressional district, voters trickled in to polling places.

Holly Zaitchik, a 66-year-old retired Boston University professor, said she voted for Markey because he's "he's done a terrific job of being there when anything important happens" in Washington.

Zaitchik also thought the Marathon bombings might discourage turnout among voters still coping with the aftermath.

"There are a lot of people who are still down and not wanting to participate in things," she said. "It's disheartening."

The GOP primary race is pitting three candidates: former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Michael Sullivan, businessman Gabriel Gomez and state Rep. Daniel Winslow, former legal counsel for ex-governor and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Gomez, 47, has tried to portray himself as the new face of the Republican Party. The son of Colombian immigrants, Gomez learned English in kindergarten, then went on to become a Navy pilot and SEAL, earn an MBA at Harvard and launch a private equity career.

The 54-year-old Winslow said he's the only candidate with experience in all three branches of the government.

After 12 years as a private attorney, Winslow was appointed to a judgeship on the state's district court in 1995. He served eight years and left to join Romney's administration as chief legal counsel.

Sullivan, 58, has pointed to his national security resume, which includes helping investigate the Sept. 11 attacks and the failed attempt to blow up an airliner using shoe bombs.

Sullivan's law enforcement and criminal justice background was critical for Peter Bochner, a 60-year-old Wayland voter who cast his ballot for Sullivan and said he wasn't surprised at the relatively low turnout.

"Law enforcement gets the short shrift in political elections," he said. "I just think it's not a sexy election. I don't think primaries, unless they are hotly contested, get a big turnout."

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin has said fewer than one in five registered voters could end up casting ballots.

Polls close at 8 p.m. The special Senate election is June 25.