U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, the liberal Democrat who has been a congressman for over three decades, will face Republican Gabriel Gomez — the Navy pilot and SEAL, son of Colombian immigrants and political newcomer — in next month’s special election to fill the Senate seat previously held by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Markey and Gomez dominated their respective competition in yesterday’s primaries to get their names on the June 25 election ballot, along with Richard Heos, an independent from Woburn.
Markey, D-Malden, who was first elected to Congress in 1976, defeated fellow U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch of South Boston, by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results based on 97 percent of the statewide election returns last night.
Meanwhile, Gomez, a Cohasset businessman won easily with 51 percent of the vote in a three-candidate race. He defeated former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan (36 percent) and state Rep. Daniel Winslow (13 percent) in the GOP primary, according to unofficial returns.
The campaign, the third U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts in the past four years, was marked in part by the relatively low voter turnout — Lawrence reported a 9.6 percent participation rate while Andover’s was 15.8 percent, with other towns reporting similar numbers.
Local residents who did vote virtually mirrored the statewide results — with Markey and Gomez winning in most local towns and cities. Only voters in Methuen, where Democrats supported Lynch by a 63 percent margin, and in Groveland, where Lynch received 58 percent of the votes, differed from the statewide trends.
Many political observers noted the apathy preceding this race, including Democratic state Sen. Barry Finegold from Andover.
“It’s been a difficult campaign,” he said, after voting Tuesday morning at Andover High School. “We had a major snow storm in February, and what happened in Boston, along with voter fatigue, it’s just not what people are talking about at the water cooler.”
Even before the April 15 bombing, the campaign had failed to capture the attention of voters like the 2010 special election following the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy. Former Republican Sen. Scott Brown won that contest before being ousted last year in another high-profile race by Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.
“There’s a lot of apathy,” said Kathy Runge, after casting a ballot for Republican Michael Sullivan in South Lawrence.
Then she offered some advice to the voters who stayed home: “Don’t complain.”
Inside, poll watcher German Lembert was baffled by the low turnout, comparing it to the excitement that surrounds elections in the Dominican Republic, which he left 21 years ago for the United States.
“You go to the street and (tell) people, ‘Today’s an election.’ They say, ‘An election?,’ “ Lembert said.
Andover Town Clerk Larry Murphy said that while turnout for yesterday’s special election was low, by 11 a.m. it was already better than the March 27 town election.
“I expect 10 to 15 percent,” Murphy said, noting that as of 11 a.m., 1,128 people had voted, or about 4.9 percent of the town’s 22,835 voters.
Retired public school teachers Mitchell Dirsa, 72, and his wife Jacqueline Dirsa, 71, both of Haverhill, said they voted in the primary in hopes of helping Ed Markey win.
“We felt that the vote would be light so we wanted to cast our ballots,” Mitchell Dirsa said. “Markey stands for what I believe in, pro-choice, gun control and the rights of women.”
“Markey has a good record and he’s a strong candidate,” Jacqueline Dirsa said.
In North Andover, Thomas Dawley, of Hickory Hill Road, said he voted for Gabriel Gomez. He suggested Gomez would be the strongest Republican candidate against the likely Democratic nominee, Congressman Edward Markey.
Gomez, he said, might draw Hispanic voters to his cause.
At least one voter at the First Presbyterian Church, 346 Broadway, Ward 5, Precinct 2, Haverhill, echoed that sentiment.
“I’d like to see some different people in, and this is the first time I’m voting Republican,” said Anna Pasquerella, 62, a retired office worker from Haverhill,
“I think he’s willing to acknowledge that he came to this country, fought for this country and is proud to be an American,” she said.
John Jeffries, 49, a sales manager from Haverhill, said he voted in the primary because he’s not happy with the current representation.
“For me it was a choice between the lesser of two evils,” Jeffries said. “I voted for Lynch instead of Markey because I think Steve (Lynch) is a more conservative in his values, as I am. But in the end I think I’ll vote for Mike Sullivan. I hope he wins the primary, but either way I will vote Republican in the general election.”
Karin Rhoton, a former North Andover School Committee member who ran unsuccessfully for state representative as a Republican last November, said she voted for Sullivan. His vast experience — former state representative, Plymouth district attorney, U.S. attorney and director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) — makes him stand out, she said.
Reporters Bill Kirk, Dustin Luca, Mike LaBella, Keith Eddings, Paul Tennant and the Associated Press contributed to this report.