The race to succeed Markey

The special election in the 5th congressional district continues to get overshadowed by events in Boston though the candidates did appear together last night on NECN. But now that the primary election’s finish line is in plain view, the race appears to be ending as it began: too close to call.

There has not been a good deal of polling beyond the internals of the candidates and with a competitive mayoral election in New England’s biggest city, which is the main media market for the 5th, this is an on-the-ground race.

It’s conceivable that any of the 5 main Democratic candidates might emerge victorious.  The state Senators, given their larger geographic districts, bring an edge but neither the Sheriff, particularly given his county-wide office, nor state representative Carl Sciortino, given his claim to the left side of progressivism, can be dismissed.

Today’s news that the Speaker of the House, Robert DeLeo, has endorsed  Sheriff Koutoujian, has the possibility of changing the dynamics of the race going into its final weekend.

Sciortino currently serves with DeLeo and Karen Spilka, Will Brownsberger, and Katherine Clark are all former colleagues.  DeLeo represents an area “up for grabs” in this race and to the extent his endorsement comes with the ability to deliver votes on election day, its impact can’t be underestimated.

But it’s also not without some risk.

Ed Markey made his mark by defying a Speaker in the 1970s.  Tom McGee exerted his punishment by removing Markey from his committee perch and putting his desk in the hallway.  Rather than accept his scolding, Markey used it to his advantage in that crowded 1976 primary election.

But like Koutoujian, Markey wasn’t without his own institutional supporters.  Congressman Michael Harrington endorsed Markey as did future Congressman, and then-state representative, Barney Frank.  Worth noting also that he got an early boost and endorsement from Bill Lee of the Red Sox.

Markey also made a name for himself later in his career by railing against the National Rifle Association and hoping to make the organization “Not Relevant Anymore.”  Koutoujian is the only Democratic candidate to receive not just a passing grade from the NRA but a B-, which even in this era of grade inflation might be considered respectable.  Koutoujian takes issue with the grade, claiming the NRA doesn’t like him.

Still, it’s an issue.  Are Democratic voters in the 5th content with having a B- NRA candidate with support of the most powerful Democrat in the Legislature succeed Ed Markey?  That question may be less important than the actual votes that DeLeo can provide for Koutoujian in Winthrop and Revere.  But it is also the type of question that can change conditions on the ground in a weekend of high emotion and activity.


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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