BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — Local supporters are gearing up to get out the vote in tomorrow’s sleepy U.S. Senate election.
The race pits Republican businessman Gabriel Gomez, 47, against Democratic Congressman Edward Markey, 66, who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 37 years. Both men are vying for the vacancy created when John Kerry was appointed secretary of state earlier this year.
The race appears to be in competition with the normal swing into summer, making it a challenge to grab voters’ attention.
But Darek Barcikowski, chairman of Salem’s Democratic City Committee, said the energy in the local Markey campaign field office on Washington Street is high.
“We are working very hard to generate interest,” said Barcikowski, noting that several factors are making that a challenge. “It’s a special election, and it’s in June.”
Nicholas Sarantopoulos, chairman of Salem’s Republican City Committee, said volunteers will be going door-to-door to get out the vote for Gomez.
“I think that he is an excellent candidate, because, unfortunately, in Massachusetts there is a one-party system, and we need to have a healthy debate on the issues. We need candidates to represent both political parties,” Sarantopoulos said,
Sarantopoulos likes Gomez for his military service and his stance on the issues. He also likes that Gomez is on the side of entrepreneurship and business growth.
“I think on the other side, Markey is a Washington insider; he has been there all those years,” Sarantopoulos said.
Jeff Cohen of Salem has been putting in long hours volunteering for the Markey campaign. His mother, Ann Cohen, who turned 80 in March, runs the canvassing for the Markey campaign in Marblehead.
He says he’s part of “a little army” working for Markey that could be the difference in the race.
“I support the Markey campaign for a couple of reasons; primarily, he is someone who gets things done,” Cohen said. Markey has been involved with a lot of legislation but has flown under the radar in Washington, he said.
“He’s probably one of the two or three best on the environment,” said Cohen, who also likes Markey’s views on gun safety, protecting seniors and jobs.
“Even though he may not come across as the most personally charismatic guy ... he gets things done. And many of the things he has done, he has reached across the aisle,” Cohen said.
The problem with Gomez, who is charismatic, is he lacks legislative and government experience, Cohen said.
Gomez, who was born in Los Angeles and now lives in Cohasset, is the son of Colombian immigrants and is fluent in Spanish and English. A former Navy SEAL, he later earned a master’s in business administration from Harvard Business School. He touts his business acumen as a principal with the Boston-based investment firm Advent International, saying he helped to grow companies, including the athletic apparel company Lululemon.
Markey’s campaign has tried to turn Gomez’s business record against him, saying he has dodged questions about it and helped ship jobs overseas. One of the examples Democrats cite is a Peabody firm, Synventive Molding Solutions, saying Gomez was on the board of the Centennial Drive company when it laid off workers locally while expanding its operations in China.
Markey grew up in a working-class family in Malden and attended Boston College and Boston College Law School. He was first elected to Congress in 1976. His interests in Congress have included the environment, technology and telecommunications, as well as a ban on assault weapons.
Gomez’s campaign has tried to turn Markey’s record as a career congressman against him, painting him as a Washington insider. A recent ad says Markey has had “37 years to get something done” and that he is part of the reason “why people are tired of D.C.” Gomez blames Markey, in part, for Congress’ failure to produce immigration, Social Security and Medicare reform.
Despite all the campaigning, the race has not drawn much voter interest. Danvers Town Clerk Joseph Collins said it’s looking like turnout will be 20 percent in town.
“It’s like no election is happening,” said Collins, who said few residents have asked for absentee ballots. Statewide, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin said requests for absentee ballots are down nearly 22 percent from the January 2010 special election when former Sen. Scott Brown defeated Attorney General Martha Coakley to win the late Ted Kennedy’s seat.
Galvin said the Stanley Cup finals, the Bulger trial and the end of the school year are all competing for voters’ attention.
So, how do supporters get the vote out?
Barcikowski said local Democrats have a ground game to not only identify likely Markey voters, but to get them to go to the polls. Since May 1, he said, volunteers have knocked on 5,000 doors.
“That is a tremendous volunteer effort,” Barcikowski said.
But Gomez supporter Jeff Stinson, a former Hamilton selectman, said voter apathy could actually work in Gomez’s favor, because it means the Democrats are not excited about their candidate. It’s what allowed Brown to beat Coakley in 2010, he said.
“Lack of enthusiasm in general isn’t a bad thing, but that means the establishment is asleep at the wheel,” said Stinson, who also worked on the congressional campaign of Republican Richard Tisei in his effort to unseat John Tierney.
“The burden is really on the Republican candidate to get his folks to the polls,” he said. “... You are going to see the phones ringing off the hook.”
Polls will be open tomorrow throughout the North Shore from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at email@example.com.