Even as Republican Gabriel E. Gomez injected a personal edge into the US Senate race, US Representative Edward J. Markey, the Democrat in the race stuck to his more reserved front-runner strategy Friday, avoiding the caustic fisticuffs that often overtake campaigns.
After Gomez tagged Markey Thursday as “pond scum” for an online Markey campaign video showing Gomez on-screen at the same time as Osama bin Laden, Markey declined to engage directly, instead arguing that the private equity investor was attempting to distract voters from policy matters.
“I don’t think that the people of Massachusetts want to hear any name-calling,” Markey told reporters. “I think what they want to hear are real proposals that ensure that we get assault weapons off the streets, that we protect Social Security, that we create jobs, that we make sure that Wall Street doesn’t turn into a casino again.”
The ad targeted by Gomez ripped the GOP nominee for his work with an outside group that criticized the Obama administration for leaking details about the US Navy SEALs’ 2011 raid on bin Laden’s compound.
At one point, the video shows Gomez on the screen at the same time as bin Laden, using an image of Gomez from his television appearance on behalf of OPSEC, a group of former military and intelligence officers opposed to Obama’s reelection.
“I don’t think there’s anything more offensive,” Gomez said in a National Public Radio interview. “You know, I’ve got four young kids, and they got to sit there and they got to see an ad with their dad — who served honorably — talk to anybody I served with — whether as a pilot or as a SEAL, or anybody I worked with. And for him to be as dirty and low, pond scum, to, like, put me up next to bin Laden, he’s just got to be called what he is. It’s that simple.”
The harsher rhetoric failed to draw a matching response from Markey, who addressed reporters after an appearance at a Dorchester union hall. That strategy, of holding the daily back and forth at arm’s length, is of a piece with Markey’s broader approach to the campaign and his public presence generally.
Markey has maintained a light public campaign schedule since the April 30 primary, although his aides say that he has been traveling the state to meet privately with prospective supporters and raise funds.
The escalation in bitterness drew a rebuke to both candidates from Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, who formally endorsed Markey Friday but was less than complimentary of the Malden Democrat’s campaign.
“Both of them,” Menino said, when asked whether the candidates shared equal responsibility for the campaign’s tenor. “You can’t blame one or the other, both of them. Now Gomez is mad because Markey did this, Markey said this. Let’s get beyond that. Let’s get beyond to what they’ll do in Washington first.”
Menino, who is not running for reelection this year after a historic 20 years as mayor, said he could explain neither Markey’s string of missed votes in Congress nor his decision not to release his tax returns until the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.
“I can’t explain that,” the mayor told reporters of Markey’s timing around the tax disclosure. “Everybody runs their own campaign and their own political situation, what they do publicly and privately. I can’t explain that at all.”
The mayor frequently offers backhanded critiques of statewide Democratic candidates, even as he offers both rhetorical and organizational support. Earlier, speaking to about 100 people at a Dorchester union hall, Menino praised Markey’s work in Washington on behalf of Massachusetts.
He told the Globe he had advised Markey to “meet and greet” more aggressively.
“Once you meet him, you know you’ll vote for him,” said Menino.
Asked about the 37-year congressman missing the last 40 House votes, while at the same time adhering to a light public campaign schedule, Menino, famous for appearing frequently around the city, said: “I can’t explain that. I just know what he’s done as a congressman. I’ve known his record. He’s been able to deliver for Massachusetts; he’s been able to deliver for Boston. Sustainability, safer, making Boston a better city.”
Since his entry into the race, Gomez’s involvement with the OPSEC has been the subject of controversy. In 2012, the group had accused the president of taking too much credit for the raid that killed the terrorist leader and of putting servicemen’s lives at risk with intelligence leaks.
The image of bin Laden used in Markey’s ad came from the controversial 18-minute video that OPSEC produced, a documentary that led many Democratic defenders to say OPSEC was trying to “swift boat” the president by trying to turn his best military victory into a negative. The OPSEC video also included numerous images of President Obama.
“Swift boating” is the political shorthand used to describe campaign techniques similar to those used against John F. Kerry in 2004 by conservative groups who tore into the Massachusetts Democrat for his military service in Vietnam and for his later protest of the war.
Gomez has used the bin Laden split-screen in his own television ad, which labels Markey as “Dirty Ed” and accuses him of “comparing [Gomez] to bin Laden.” Markey’s Web video does not explicitly compare Gomez and bin Laden.
Markey and Gomez are vying to fill the seat that Kerry vacated when he became secretary of state. The election is scheduled for June 25.
@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.