Following last weekend’s massive snowstorm that buried most of eastern Massachusetts from Boston to Worcester in as much as three feet of snow, there was a blizzard of activity this week by Republican hopefuls in the race to replace former Massachusetts U.S. Senator John Kerry.
WAMC’s Patrick Donges checked in with the Boston Globe’s Massachusetts State House bureau chief Frank Phillips for an update on the climatic challenges, both political and meteorological, that Republicans must overcome for a shot at the seat.
The snowstorm that battered New England on February 8 may have not only closed roads and buried cars on Beacon Hill. According to Boston Globe State House bureau chief Frank Phillips, it may have also buried any chance the GOP has to re-take one of the Bay State’s two U.S. Senate seats following Scott Brown’s loss to Elizabeth Warren last year and John Kerry’s ascension to Secretary of State.
“They have to have 10,000 certified voter signatures handed in to city and town clerks. That’s a huge job in the three month period that’s normally available,” Phillips tells WAMC. “Often a good part of those months are in warmer weather, March, April and part of May. Now in the winter time, people are running down the street, they don’t want to stop for petitioners.”
“And now we got slammed with this blizzard that shut down Boston for a couple of days and kept people in their homes. It really was a blow, particularly to the Republicans,” he continued.
Philips also noted that GOP candidates will likely have to spend a significant amount of money from their campaign funds to hire signature gathering firms to make up the time lost due to weather.
The deadline to collect those signatures is February 27, now less than two weeks away. The winter storm only exacerbated what may be the largest challenge to Republicans in this special election – finding a candidate with enough clout and experience to win.
“The political world really thought that Scott Brown, who became a rock star a couple of years ago, and still had a lot of political juice left, would be their candidate,” Phillips said. “But it became increasingly clear after Christmas there was some hesitancy there, but he really didn’t let anyone know until the last moment and that really caught the Republicans flatfooted because they had no (alternative) candidate.”
Following word from several high-profile potential candidates that they would not seek the nomination, two have officially stepped forward; State Representative Dan Winslow and Cohassat businessman and former NAVY Seal Gabriel Gomez. Neither has run in a statewide race.
Another question that remains is what type of support the state and national Republican Party organizations will provide candidates in a race that seems so far out of reach. Phillips says while national Democrats have already made an endorsement, Republicans appear to be waiting for an opening before formally backing a candidate.
“The Democratic Senatorial Committee has already endorsed one candidate, Congressman Ed Markey,” Phillips said, noting that the second Democrat seeking the nomination is another Congressman, Steve Lynch.
“On the Republican side, they’re not jumping in at this point,” he continued. “I think they’re going to wait and see what happens. If the Democratic primary is so bitter and it’s a shambles after the April 30 primary and the Democrats have really fought bitterly, they might think there’s a chance here.”
By Friday there were two more names being floated as potential GOP candidates, businessman and former congressional candidate Sean Bielat and former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan. Phillips says that along with shortened timeframe for collecting signatures, both men also have their own unique challenges in both getting into and winning the race.
“If Sean Bielat decides to run I think it would be a real uphill climb for him to get the signatures,” he said.
“Michael Sullivan is a lot better known in Republican political circles,” Phillips continued, noting Sullivan’s experience on the national stage as acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, and his ties to the state’s Republican strongholds.
In a release, Sullivan, who currently practices law in Washington, said he wants to see if he can collect the 10,000 signatures using volunteers instead of paid gatherers before officially entering the race.
Tim Buckley, Communications Director for the Massachusetts Republican Party said Friday that despite the storm, the candidates’ signature gathering operations are now in full swing.
Activists and volunteers across the state are already pounding the pavement for one candidate or another,” Buckley said. “Collecting the signatures is not easy, but it’s not impossible. We should remember that Senator (Scott) Brown collected all, I think it was 20,000 certified signatures, in a single weekend.”
Buckley also said that regardless of who the party ends up endorsing, they will be, “A breath of fresh air to Massachusetts and will be able to offer a new direction that the Democratic nominees cannot. Whoever emerges from the Republican side is going to stand in stark contrast to those two Washington D.C. insiders.”
The special election is scheduled for June 25, with the primary set for April 30.