The gloves have come off

Any remaining aura of collegiality in the race for the Democratic nomination vanished last night and it’s not just because we are in closing week.

There is a sense after the latest round of polling, the continued energy demonstrated by his union supporters in the field, and the heightened level of charisma the candidate has brought with him of late, that Lynch just might be able to win this.

To be sure the hurdles that have always been there haven’t been taken away.  My colleague Professor Duquette points out the obvious, that Markey “has an even more enviable advantage in this respect; he is the choice of both the party’s base and the party’s establishment.”  Add to that advantage a strong fundraising lead and a lead in every poll taken.

What Lynch has in his favor is a respectable field organization, respectable fundraising numbers in a race where the establishment coalesced early around Markey, a strong and polished television presence, and the very real sense that little mattered in this race in terms of public consciousness until this week.

The terrorist attack in Boston forced a pause in the election, and quite rightly so.  Except for their most fervent supporters, few people have been thinking about the special election primary.

The campaign effectively resumed with a poll and Monday’s debate.

The Western New England poll last week didn’t really surprise–my own sense is a  10 point lead this close to an election is just about insurmountable–but it did demonstrate an opportunity for Lynch with 36% of respondents indicating they might change their mind and 21% remaining undecided.  Still, it was a rather small sample size with a margin of error of 6%.  We might want to take the results with a bit of a shrug.

The Monday evening debate at WBZ did surprise.  Lynch was far more aggressive and pointed than we’ve come to expect.  As is often the case, it is not likely that many voters who are up for grabs tuned in to watch.  But Lynch clearly won the second, and more crucial, round: the post-debate commentary.  What people are talking about the next day penetrates the public consciousness more deeply than the broadcast.

Tuesday night’s debate was also high-octane and much more personal.  Lynch called his opponent a liar, then retracted by labelling Markey simply misinformed and Markey returning fire by accusing Lynch of tactics worthy of Karl Rove.

With no love lost, the practical effect of both evenings was to fire up supporters and cause any latent supporters to perk up.

Lynch has successfully framed the question in this final week: people v. process.  Or, rather, are you with the fish or the fisherman?  Markey need only retort by uttering the words “health care” to remind primary voters with whom he stands.

Having sensed an upset could be in the cards, the Lynch team needs to confront the reality of its get-out-the-vote operation.  Markey brings the advantage of a strong team that has perfected its talents by working for two organizational superstars: President Obama and Senator Warren.

Lynch brings the organizational heft of his union supporters but they are going to have to work more than overtime this week to reach out to those many undecided voters.  These voters are more likely to simply stay home next Tuesday than decide late and turn out to vote.

At the very least, Lynch has given any potential supporters a reason to consider him.  The road to victory remains long for him but perhaps not quite as long as it was a few short months ago.

About Peter Ubertaccio

Peter Ubertaccio is the Director of Joseph Martin Institute for Law & Society at Stonehill College in Easton and Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science & International Studies. His work focuses on political parties, marketing and institutions. He received his Ph.D. in Politics from Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. Professor Ubertaccio and his family live on Cape Cod where he is on the Board of Directors of the OpenCape Corporation and the Sandwich Economic Initiative Corporation.
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