By Warren Talbot
---- — Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin is blaming the hot weather, the Bruins and even Whitey Bulger for what seems to be an almost embarrassing lack of excitement about today’s special election for U.S. Senate between Republican newcomer Gabriel Gomez of Cohasset and Democrat Congressman Ed Markey of Malden.
Since after the April primary, interest in the race has been desultory despite the fact that Gomez, 47, a millionaire, former Navy Seal and Markey, 66, a Democratic stalwart, have had three testy TV debates and slashed at each other on the Internet and in TV ads.
Markey has boasted about his 37 years on Capitol Hill and Gomez has pointed to those nearly four decades in Washington as precisely the reason Markey needs to be blocked.
The winner of today’s election will fill the final 17 months of the term of former Sen. John Kerry who resigned to become U.S. Secretary of State and would have to run again next year for his own full, six-year term. Gov. Deval Patrick appointed Democratic loyalist William “Mo” Cowan to keep the seat warm until today’s election.
Polls are open today from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Describing himself as “very concerned,” Galvin predicted a record low turnout estimating 1.6 million voters will cast ballots out of 4.3 million registered voters.
Galvin said his estimated turnout totals would fall well short of the baseline of 2.2 million votes cast, a number he derived based on patterns in recent U.S. Senate contests.
“I’d like nothing more than to be wrong,” Galvin said.
Galvin suggested that political factors as well as the Boston Bruins playoff run, the trial of South Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, the timing of the election in the early summer and the heat have contributed to diminished interest.
“We don’t usually have elections in heat waves, but we may do that tomorrow,” Galvin said.
Through Monday morning, 63,000 voters had cast absentee ballots compared to 105,000 at the same point in the January 2010 special election between Scott Brown and Martha Coakley for U.S. Senate.
Brown, who succeeded the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, was the first Republican to win a Massachusetts Senate seat in 38 years. But, he was upended by Democrat Elizabeth Warren last year when he tried to win election to a full six-year term. The race was nasty and far more entertaining than this Gomez-Markey matchup.
Using the past three U.S. Senate races held in non-presidential election years as his benchmark, Galvin said he expected turnout to fall well below the 2.1 million votes cast during the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s re-election effort in 1982, the low-water mark over the past 30 years.
Highlighting the last special election between Brown and Coakley when 2.25 million voters cast ballots, Galvin said the “fever pitch” during that campaign stemming from national interest in the federal health care law and Brown’s promise to be the 60th vote needed in the Senate to block the bill’s passage don’t exist this time around.
“None of those factors are present in this particular case,” said Galvin. “Ironically, it is now more apparent that the United States Senate is the only place apparently in the federal government that things can get done so it makes participation tomorrow all the more, you would think, all the more important since that’s the branch of government that seem to have the best chance of reaching some settlement of some of the major issues before us.”
Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.