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Former US attorney Sullivan eyes Senate bid

Former US attorney Michael J. Sullivan said Thursday that he is launching a grass-roots effort to get his name on the Republican primary ballot for US Senate.

Sullivan, whose entry into the Republican primary would re­define what appeared to be a two-person contest, said he will run in the special election if “a groundswell’’ of supporters pushing his candidacy can collect the10,000 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot before the deadline less than two weeks from now.

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A longtime Abington resident, Sullivan has been practicing law for the last several years as a partner in the Washington law firm of former US attorney general John Ashcroft. Sullivan said he realizes the hurdle of a late signature drive, but noted that his supporters have been in the field for two weeks gathering signatures.

“I have been advised by some individuals, much more experienced than me, that attempting to gather signatures through volunteers with less than two weeks left is impossible,’’ Sullivan said in a statement. “But I have decided to take on that challenge to see if we can prove the experts wrong.’’

His last-minute presence on the GOP primary scene comes as Republicans were close to settling on two other candidates — second-­term state Representative Daniel D. Winslow and businessman Gabriel E. Gomez — as the likely contenders in the April 30 primary.

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Also Thursday, Sean Bielat opened a federal campaign ­account, typically a step toward joining the race, but he has made no official decision. Bielat lost ­recent US House races to Barney Frank and Joseph P. Kennedy III.

Sullivan’s risky decision to rely only on volunteers to circulate nomination papers comes in sharp contrast to Gomez, who is spending more than $100,000 on professional signature gatherers, and Winslow, who is also paying a firm to supplement his volunteers.

But with more experience in high-profile politics, Sullivan would be considered by some to be a standout for the party nomination if he decides to run.

“With the current candidates, he would clearly be the favorite,’’ said Rob Gray, a veteran Republican consultant.

Gray has said Sullivan, who served two terms as state representative before being appointed Plymouth district attorney in 1995, has Republican connections across the state that could provide volunteers and operational help.

In 2001, Sullivan was named US attorney in Boston, serving for eight years. He was also named acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2006.

Since early February, activists, particularly in his home base of Plymouth County, have been encouraging the 58-year-old Sullivan to run. Supporters have created a Facebook page to generate interest, titled “Draft Michael Sullivan for US Senate.”

Steve Aylward, a GOP state committeeman from the ­Watertown area who has been spearheading the draft-Sullivan movement, said he has “all the confidence in the world’’ that volunteers can gather the necessary signatures by the Feb. 27 deadline.

Sullivan is one of several candidates wrestling over whether to enter the race, with an emerging GOP field in flux. The uncertainty is due in part to the last-minute decision by former senator Scott Brown not to run.

In a statement on his website Thursday night, Bielat said he would “soon be making a ­final decision,” adding, “I am encouraged by the fact that our volunteer infrastructure gives us a base to rapidly build our signature collecting and field outreach organization.”

State Senate minority leader Bruce E. Tarr said Thursday that he will not run for the seat. But he predicted a robust GOP primary.

“The early press reports were that this was a party that was going to have trouble finding candidates, and I think the reality is we’re not going to have that problem at all,” Tarr said. “The question is going to be how many and who are they?”

Frank Phillips can be reached at ­phillips@globe.com. Noah Bierman can be reached at ­nbierman@globe.com.
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