BOSTON – Democratic U.S. Rep. Edward Markey and Republican former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez won their party primaries on Tuesday, setting up a race between a 36-year veteran of Washington politics and a political newcomer for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by John Kerry.
Markey defeated fellow U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch in the Democratic primary while Gomez, who's also a businessman, bested former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and state Rep. Daniel Winslow in the GOP primary, according to unofficial returns. The special election is scheduled for June 25.
The race to fill the seat Kerry left to become U.S. secretary of state has been overshadowed by the deadly Boston Marathon bombing, and the candidates had to temporarily suspend their campaigns.
Even before the April 15 bombing, the campaign had failed to capture the attention of voters compared with the 2010 special election following the death of longtime Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy. Former Republican Sen. Scott Brown won the seat, surprising Democrats, but was ousted last year in another high-profile race by Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.
Markey, 66, led all the other candidates in fundraising and had won the backing early on of Kerry and a large segment of the Democratic establishment. Lynch, a South Boston conservative and self-described "pro-life" Democrat, was dogged in part by his decision to vote against President Barack Obama's 2010 health care law.
Gomez, 47, was virtually unknown in Massachusetts politics before announcing his plan to run for Kerry's seat earlier this year.
Gomez, the son of Colombian immigrants, celebrated his outsider status, wearing his lack of Washington experience as a badge of honor. Gomez also had a compelling life story, learning to speak English in kindergarten before going on to become a Navy pilot and SEAL, earn an MBA at Harvard Business School and launch a career in private equity.
Gomez, of Cohasset, cast himself as the new face of the Republican Party, which has struggled to reach out to minority populations following the defeat last year of GOP presidential candidate and former Gov. Mitt Romney.
Gomez has introduced himself in Spanish in campaign ads and on the stump in a state where Hispanic voters are a small but growing slice of the population.
Sullivan, an early favorite among conservative Republicans, touted his law enforcement and national security background, having helped investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and the failed attempt to blow up an airliner using shoe bombs.
But Sullivan, of Abington, collected the smallest amount of campaign contributions of the three GOP candidates and was unable to run any statewide TV ads.
Winslow, a former judge from Norfolk who served as chief legal counsel in Romney's administration, finished third despite putting $150,000 of his own cash into the race.
While Gomez easily outraised his challengers he also loaned his campaign at least $600,000.
The campaign, the third U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts in the past four years, was marked in part by the relatively low voter turnout. That turnout was likely hampered by the April 15 bombing and the search for the bombers, which consumed the attention of residents across Massachusetts.
In the town of Wayland, in Markey's congressional district, voters trickled in to polling places.
Holly Zaitchik, a 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 attack might discourage turnout among voters.
"There are a lot of people who are still down and not wanting to participate in things," she said. "It's disheartening."
Markey, who's from Malden and has served in the U.S. House since 1976, and Gomez will be on the June 25 special election ballot along with Richard Heos, an independent from Woburn.
Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick had named his former chief of staff, William "Mo" Cowan, to fill Kerry's seat on an interim basis until after the special election.