BRAINTREE — Six hours into a shift gathering signatures to help Michael J. Sullivan qualify for the Republican ballot for US Senate, Robert Greenwood’s voice had faded from a ballpark-vendor boom to a parched rasp. But still he walked semicircles in front of a Sullivan banner, appealing to passersby. The clock was ticking.
“Signatures to put Mike Sullivan on the ballot,” Greenwood repeated, five to 10 times a minute, hundreds of times an hour, while trying to draw eye contact with shoppers at the South Shore Plaza.
But despite how often Greenwood, Sullivan’s brother-in-law, uttered his line, the signatures were only adding up at the rate of a dozen or two an hour, inching toward the goal: 10,000 verifiable names — from registered Republican or unenrolled voters in Massachusetts — by Wednesday afternoon.
To get there, the campaign will need to collect even more raw signatures, given the duplicates, unregistered voters, or registered Democrats whose names will be discounted.
The same Sullivan pitch has been touted in dozens of malls and supermarket parking lots across Massachusetts since the former US attorney announced on Valentine’s Day that he was entering the race. And the effort was going on even before then, as a few Sullivan supporters tried to draft him and get a head start gathering names.
‘We’re losing two major days in the world’s shortest time frame.’
The candidates from both major parties are sprinting toward Wednesday’s deadline, but Sullivan faces arguably the greatest challenge, and not just because he was the last to announce his run. Sullivan lacks the organizational muscle of the Democratic machine and the paid staff members hired by his Republican opponents — private equity investor Gabriel Gomez and state Representative Daniel Winslow — to harvest signatures.
And now the forecast shows a third straight weekend could be wiped out by snow.
“It’s going to be a nail-biter,” said Holly Robichaud, a Republican consultant who described herself as “chief volunteer” for Sullivan’s nascent campaign. “If it wasn’t going to snow it would be a lot easier. We’re losing two major days in the world’s shortest time frame.”
The Democrats, US Representatives Edward J. Markey and Stephen P. Lynch, were the first to enter the special-election race to succeed John F. Kerry, while Republicans waited to see if former US senator Scott Brown would run. Spokesmen for each Democrat expressed confidence Friday.
“We’re going to be on the ballot,” Lynch spokesman Conor Yunits said.
Markey spokeswoman Giselle Barry said their volunteers have exceeded their goals. “Our grass-roots campaign can’t print signature sheets fast enough to keep up with the demand,” she said.
Gomez campaign senior adviser Leonardo Alcivar and Winslow spokesman Rob Willington also said their campaigns are on track to qualify.
That leaves Sullivan, whose South Shore Plaza station was a family affair: Greenwood and his sister, Maureen Dean — each of them are siblings of Sullivan’s wife, Terry -- appealed to passersby, while Sullivan’s mother-in-law and a niece sat at a banner-covered table to collect names on official sheets.
Those sheets must be categorized by municipality so they can be submitted for town-by-town certification. The municipalities then have a week to review and forward the certified names to the secretary of state for counting, said Brian McNiff, a spokesman for the secretary.
Most at the mall just kept walking, clutching multicolored shopping bags or styrofoam containers from the food court. Sometimes Greenwood, a barrel-chested Gillette retiree, received a tight-lipped smile; occasionally he got a “Sorry, I’m a Democrat.”
But Karol Kolostow, a Dedham homemaker, stopped and leaned forward, shifting her shoulder bag as she scanned Greenwood’s “Draft Michael Sullivan” sign.
“Oh,” she said, reading the text at the bottom. “He’s a Republican.”
“What are you?” Greenwood asked.
“Independent,” said Kolostow, a 44-year-old unenrolled voter.
“That’s what we need!” Greenwood declared. “Just so we get him on the ballot. You’re not signing your life away.”
“All right,” Kolostow said. Theresa Greenwood, Sullivan’s mother-in-law, gave her the sheet for Dedham while reciting Sullivan’s bio as a former state legislator, district attorney, and US attorney. “So he’s been around the block,” she said. “And he’s a wonderful person.”
Kolostow nodded. A fan of US Senator Elizabeth Warren, Kolostow is unlikely to vote for Sullivan but she supports a robust political process.
“I’d like to see what he has to say,” she said. “Keep an open mind.”
Greg Kreger of Easton also stopped to sign, identifying himself as a Sullivan supporter. Without Brown, he thought Sullivan was head and shoulders above the remaining Republicans in name recognition, and he admires his work as a prosecutor.
“Ten thousand [signatures]?” Kreger, 51, asked Robert Greenwood. “He’ll knock that out.”
But for every Kreger, there were many more like the ruddy-faced man in the Patriots hat who breezed by.
“Signatures to put Mike Sullivan on the ballot?” Greenwood asked.
“No way,” the man said, identifying himself as a Braintree voter without breaking stride, and apparently mistaking Michael Sullivan for Braintree’s mayor, Joseph C. Sullivan. “He didn’t plow my street.”