By Marjorie Nesin
---- — GLOUCESTER — Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr yesterday cited his commitments at the state level and a hesitancy to enter a polarized, partisan Washington, D.C., political environment as his main reasons for pulling away from the U.S. Senate race before stepping over the start line.
Tarr had first admitted he was considering a run for John Kerry’s U.S. Senate seat on Feb. 5, originally saying he would announce his decision last Monday.
Then he delayed that announcement until Thursday, though he said that he and his advisers shifted from one choice to the other “back and forth and back and forth,” until the last minutes before releasing the verdict to the press.
“I had both press releases ready to go,” Tarr said in an interview at the Gloucester Daily Times’ office yesterday morning.
But, in the end, the Republican leader decided Thursday night that his centrist nature was better suited for state Senate office now, considering a point from at least one friend who said he might find himself uncomfortable in the seat with such a divided environment as Congress.
Tarr said the deciding factor in his choice not to seek the federal seat also came down to unfinished business here in the state.
With the state budget about to hit the state Senate and upcoming legislation in areas including welfare reform and criminal sentencing, Tarr said he would be uncomfortable leaving his post as leader of the four Republicans in the state Senate — a leader who frequently talks a tough debate and comes to comfortable compromises with Senate President Therese Murray, a Plymouth Democrat.
“The biggest thing for me is, I’m the minority leader of the Senate, I have a job to do,” Tarr said. “I think this would be a different decision perhaps if I wasn’t the minority leader. I’m very proud right now that in the state Senate we actually accomplish things.”
Those who are running to date include three Republicans — businessman Gabriel Gomez of Cohasset, state Rep. Dan Winslow of Norfolk and former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan — and two Democrats — Congressmen Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch. And all must collect 10,000 certifiable signatures of registered Massachusetts voters by the end of this month. That’s a task that would likely require a paid staff of canvassers, though Sullivan declared that he will use only volunteers to collect his signatures.
Though some questioned the short time frame, imposed by the nature of the accelerated special election, Tarr said yesterday that he is confident that he would have been able to gather enough signatures. Tarr said unofficial consultants assured him the task could be completed, and he said he received a number of phone calls from people on Cape Ann and elsewhere volunteering to collect signatures and offering their own signed support.
“It got to the point where people were actually volunteering with numbers of signatures,” Tarr said.
That support and the backing of many Cape Ann residents poured out after Tarr announced he was mulling the position in an almost slip of the tongue, he said. The story hit State House News Service wires and then other media after Tarr chatted with a reporter on his way out of the Statehouse on Feb. 5.
“I go from having a friendly conversation with two friends who are in the press corps to being on the front page of papers around the state,” Tarr said with a laugh yesterday.
Still, that prompting pushed Tarr to seriously consider his candidacy, while self-imposing a deadline for the decision. But, when a blizzard struck his area of constituency that weekend, Tarr busied himself visiting Plum Island, where many homes were devastated or damaged. He hesitated to rush to a deadline decision with valuable time for candidacy consideration instead dedicated to storm recovery.
“We actually had a press release ready to go on Monday night,” Tarr said.
Though Tarr declined to say whether that press release would have signified the beginning of his run for U.S. Senate or the end of his consideration, he said a chief of staff said he sensed Tarr felt uneasy about the decision embedded in that release and suggested that Tarr take time to put more thought into it.
“It was like a weight off my shoulders,” Tarr said. “That was a pivotal moment.”
Tuesday, Tarr was again left with little time for handwringing over a run, as he spent the day in supplemental budget discussions. Then, on Thursday, two members of the Statehouse press corps cornered Tarr again, asking about a decision. Thursday night, Tarr’s campaign manager hit send just before 6, distributing the email with Tarr’s final decision against the run to media across the state.
Tarr said he was also swayed by straight advice from friends and colleagues who suggested he run for a state office next, rather than a U.S. Senate or congressional position. Tarr said that while he is far more learned in state legislation, he could catch on quickly to the national agenda and would consider running for higher office in the future.
“The fact that we have received so much support from around the state has opened my eyes,” Tarr said. “I wouldn’t rule out any option.”