By Douglas Moser
---- — Tomorrow is the party primary for a special U.S. Senate race, but local city and town clerks expect a very low turnout even as the U.S. Senate seats from Massachusetts have been in constant flux since the death of Edward M. Kennedy in 2010.
Three men are vying for the Republican nomination and two for the Democratic nomination to fill the seat vacated in February when John F. Kerry stepped down to become the U.S. Secretary of State.
A recent poll showed Congressman Ed Markey, D-Malden, in the lead for the Democratic nomination, and businessman Gabriel Gomez in the lead for the Republican nomination. But large percentages of likely primary voters reported they are open to changing their minds.
Area clerks said they expect turnout to hover in the teens, based on past elections and the number of absentee ballots requested.
“We’ve had only 96 absentee ballots requested, which leads me to think the turnout will be very low, I’d say 10 to 15 percent. My guess is about 12 percent,” said Methuen City Clerk Christine Touma-Conway.
Polls will be staffed at all precincts in Methuen, Haverhill and Lawrence, and will be open statewide from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
In North Andover, Town Clerk Joyce Bradshaw said her office has received between 150 and 200 requests for absentee ballots. “We’re not expecting a huge turnout,” she said. “We see some absentees, but not what you usually get (in a presidential general election.)”
All North Andover voters will vote at North Andover High School.
Andover Town Clerk Lawrence Murphy said his office has received 101 requests for absentee ballots. “Based on what we’ve seen so far for absentee ballots, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be very high,” he said of the turnout.
Precincts 1, 7 and 8 will vote at the Andover senior center, and the rest of town will vote at Andover High School.
Three Republicans are seeking their party’s nomination. A Western New England University poll taken April 11 to 18 showed Gomez leading the pack with 33 percent support. Michael Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney and Plymouth District Attorney, was next with 27 percent, and state Rep. Daniel Winslow trailed them both with 9 percent, according to the poll. Thirty percent are undecided.
But the poll showed a whopping 59 percent of likely Republican primary voters willing to change their minds.
Richard Padova, a professor of history and government at Northern Essex Community College, said those candidates have been a little rougher on each other because of the opportunity for Republicans of picking up a Senate seat in another special election, and the outcome is not clear.
“They know it’s a Democratic state and is going to be difficult for a Republican to win,” Padova said. “But they’ve taken some consolation that Scott Brown did it three years ago. If he could do it, then maybe one of these relative unknowns can do it.”
Gomez has been highlighting his bootstraps story, business experience and his service in the military, though a letter he wrote to Gov. Deval Patrick asking to be named interim senator caused him some problems when he expressed support for some Democratic positions.
Sullivan has been campaigning as a conservative, earning him attacks from Democrats for being out of step with Massachusetts.
Winslow, a relative unknown still struggling to break through, according to the poll, was a Wrentham district court judge and a lawyer in Mitt Romney’s administration who has tried to present himself as an ideas-driven Republican who will look out for small business.
On the Democratic side, longtime Congressman Markey, first elected to Congress in 1976, leads Congressman Stephen Lynch, of South Boston, by about 10 percentage points, 44-34 percent, in the Western New England University poll, with 21 percent undecided. Thirty-six percent of Democrats said they could change their minds.
Markey received the blessing of the Democratic establishment, picking up early endorsements by many prominent Democrats, including Kerry.
Lynch has highlighted his blue collar roots and former job as an iron worker and union president. He held socially conservative views on abortion and gay marriage for years, some of which he said have evolved over time, generating some heat from liberal Democrats.
Padova said Markey, as the establishment-backed candidate running a safe campaign to maintain his front-runner status, will likely hold onto his lead and finish ahead tomorrow. “It’s still Markey’s to lose,” he said.
The special election for U.S. Senator will be Tuesday, June 25.
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