While Republican Gabriel E. Gomez held nine public events this week, his Democratic rival, Edward J. Markey, held none, sparking criticism from Gomez that the veteran congressman is ignoring voters and avoiding the public eye.
“He’s been hiding,” Gomez said Friday, during a stop at Mul’s Diner in South Boston.
Aides to Markey, who has not held a public event since last Sunday, defended his decision not to hold any voter meet-and-greets, saying the Malden Democrat was busy with a mix of congressional business and private political meetings with groups in the state including the Massachusetts Mayors Association, the state firefighters’ union, the Black Ministerial Alliance, and The Armenian Assembly of America.
Some Democrats argue these groups represent constituencies that could be more valuable than cafe visits and cookouts in a low-turnout special election.
But Markey’s lack of public events with voters means he runs the risk of appearing to repeat the mistakes of Attorney General Martha Coakley, who was accused of running a lackluster campaign and snubbing voters before her loss to Scott Brown in the 2010 special Senate election.
Coakley’s defeat in the race for the seat long held by Edward M. Kennedy looms over every Democratic candidate for federal office in Massachusetts.
“With the memory of the Scott Brown special election still pretty alive, if I were Ed Markey, I’d be on the trail. I’d be out there,” said Marc Landy, a Boston College political scientist. “I’m not sure it’s disastrous that he stayed under the radar this week, but it’s surprising. There’s always some chance that Gomez could catch fire.”
Giselle Barry, a Markey spokeswoman, pushed back against that line of criticism.
“Ed Markey is busy serving his constituents as a congressman, while also hitting the campaign trail hard,” she said.
Gomez, as a Republican running in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, lacks the constellation of unions and liberal groups that Markey has been able to woo privately, and has been making greater use of public events to generate media attention. This week, his stops included an aerospace company in Woburn, a candy distributor in Jamaica Plain, the USS Constitution in Charlestown, and downtown Boston to shake hands with Bruins fans outside the TD Garden.
Gomez’s visibility — even as he was buffeted by questions about a lucrative tax deduction that he took for his Cohasset home — served to highlight Markey’s absence in the public eye. But Markey’s aides said he still spent the week juggling his campaign and congressional responsibilities.
After working on district business in Massachusetts on Monday, he met with the Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston for about 20 minutes on Tuesday, according to the Rev. Gregory G. Groover, Sr., the president of the group, who said they had a “very, very fruitful discussion.”
The congressman then traveled back to Washington for a fund-raiser on Tuesday evening, and spent Wednesday in the capital, working on congressional business, attending a fund-raiser for Boston Marathon victims, and picking up an award from the Ocean Conservancy. He flew back to Massachusetts on Thursday, and met with the mayors association on Cape Cod, mingled at a Democratic Party dinner in Boston, and spoke to the Armenian assembly in Cambridge.
On Friday, he addressed the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, in Lynn, and picked up their endorsement. Markey plans to return to the campaign trail on Saturday, with a stop at a cafe in Worcester and a speech to a Democratic banquet in that city.
Philip W. Johnston, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party and a member of Markey’s finance committee, said he was not concerned about Markey’s lack of public events this week.
“I haven’t heard any concerns about it because I think the party and the Markey campaign are deeply engaged in coordinating a very aggressive field organization, and he’s up on the air with TV spots,” Johnston said. “I don’t think going to a supermarket in a particular community is going to make a difference at this point. It’s an organizational effort and a media effort.”
During the Democratic primary, Markey’s rival, Representative Stephen F. Lynch, tried, like Gomez, to outwork Markey by holding more public events. But Lynch’s lopsided loss showed that in the end, voters cared more about “how you will vote and not that they saw you at the bean supper or the church picnic,” said Scott Ferson, a key Lynch strategist.
“There’s always a friction between being out there and not being out there, and running an air war and running a ground war on any campaign,” Ferson said. “But what we learned in the primary is that Markey is savvy enough to know what he needs to do to win.”