BOSTON — Democratic U.S. Rep. Edward Markey and Republican former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez won their party primaries yesterday, 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, of Malden, defeated fellow U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, of South Boston, in the Democratic primary while Gomez, a Cohasset 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.
Across the region, Markey largely dominated Lynch on the Democratic ballot while Gomez wiped out his two Republic opponents. Sullivan consistently placed second ahead of Winslow in the Republican primary, and overall Democratic turnout was much stronger than it was Republicans.
The most glaring example came in Newburyport, where Democrats came out in force to support Markey. Markey collected more than three times as many votes as Lynch, garnering a total of 1,594 votes (78 percent) to Lynch’s 434 (22 percent).
Republicans collectively scored much poorer in Newburyport, but Gomez still cruised to victory with 408 votes (57 percent) to Sullivan’s 209 (29 percent) and Winslow’s 104 (14 percent). Overall, city officials thought the turnout in Newburyport was surprisingly strong, given the limited hype the primary generated before Election Day.
“We had about a 20 percent turnout, and that is stronger than expected for this kind of election,” said Richard Jones, city clerk of Newburyport.
In Amesbury, the turnout also tilted strongly Democratic, and Markey cruised to an easy victory over Lynch by a count of 676 to 372, or 65 percent to 35 percent. The Republican ballot wasn’t competitive either, with Gomez taking 60.8 percent of the total GOP vote.
Like in Newburyport, Amesbury also had a surprising turnout with 1,586 total ballots cast, good for 14 percent. Assistant City Clerk Sharon Dunning said that while 14 percent is pretty low compared to other recent elections, it’s much stronger than the 7 to 10 percent they’d been anticipating.
The closest Lynch came to scoring a victory was in Salisbury, where he and Markey wound up separated by only 22 votes. Markey ultimately edged out Lynch by a razor thin margin of 598 to 576, while Gomez easily carried the GOP ballot with 56.7 percent of the vote.
The strongest overall Republican turnout came in Rowley, where 324 ballots were cast compared to 388 Democratic ones. As was the case elsewhere, Gomez was the preferred candidate with 55.8 percent of the total vote.
Newbury and West Newbury both largely followed the same trends as the rest of the region. The only major difference was that Winslow polled stronger relative to Sullivan in the Republican race, but still finished third in both towns.
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, compared to Lynch, a conservative, self-described “pro-life” Democrat who 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 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.
Gomez easily outraised his challengers, and 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.
Markey, who 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.