BOSTON — Even before the explosions, polling suggested that Massachusetts voters weren’t excited about the looming special election to replace former U.S. Sen. John Kerry.
But in the days after bombs ripped through the Boston Marathon’s crowded streets, politics were all but forgotten as authorities launched an unprecedented manhunt and a region grappled with terror. It didn’t matter that competitive primary contests were 15 days away; everything was put on hold.
“There are things that are more important than campaigning, and that horrific event was clearly one of them,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, who is competing against U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch for the Democratic nomination to replace Kerry, now the secretary of state.
After suspending political activities for roughly a week, the candidates have been forced to walk a delicate balance as they engage voters ahead of tomorrow’s Republican and Democratic primaries. They have largely avoided the site of the attack out of sensitivity for victims, but some have tweaked campaign advertising to address the bombing, highlighted their national security credentials and tried to use the sudden focus on terrorism to shift the direction of the race.
“It completely changed the landscape,” Lynch aide Scott Ferson said of the bombing.
On the Democratic side, Lynch has seized on national security in recent days to attack Markey, thought to be the front-runner. One of the most memorable moments in last week’s Democratic debate, just a week after the bombing, focused on support for federal security efforts
“Unlike my colleague Mr. Markey, I’ve actually voted for the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bills,” Lynch charged.
Markey responded: “He’s taking a page right out of the Karl Rove swift boat playbook, and it’s very sad, especially just one week after what just happened in Boston, Cambridge and Watertown.”
On the Republican side in particular, the recent violence shifted the contours of the contest.
GOP candidate Gabriel Gomez, a former Navy SEAL, finished running the marathon minutes before the bombs exploded along the finish line, killing three and injuring more than 260.
Like other candidates, Gomez immediately pulled television ads off the air and suspended campaign activities. He said he was focused on being respectful as he eased back into campaigning the following weekend.
Republican candidate Dan Winslow, a former judge and chief legal counsel under former Gov. Mitt Romney, said the entire GOP field has experience with national security.
“We’ve got a Navy SEAL, a former prosecutor and a former judge all in the field for Republicans,” Winslow said. “I think we all have our own credentials. The key is, Who’s got the better ideas? Who’s got the better electability in June?”