In the recent Democratic primary race for state Senate in the Third Middlesex District, the two top candidates had unusual resumes: Mike Barrett had already served seven terms as a state senator and representative; Joe Kearns Goodwin, an Army veteran with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, captured high-profile endorsements and raised far more money than any other candidate.
In the end, as Kearns Goodwin told supporters gathered at a Waltham bar on primary night, he didn’t win his first election. Barrett, who lives in Lexington, won by 272 votes.
Last week, Kearns Goodwin was back at Harvard Law School, where he is finishing his third year. (Had he won the primary, he said, he would have deferred his classes.)
“I just think that we have to respect the fact that the electorate wanted to go with somebody with legislative experience,” Kearns Goodwin said.
“I think I probably could have done better communicating the type of experience I have.”
His campaign manager, Cayce McCabe, tied his defeat to the demographics of the district and of the voters who turned out on Sept. 6.
“I believe that in a low-turnout election, we were dealing with a much older electorate,” McCabe said. “As a whole, voters in that age bracket are not looking for a change agent as much.”
As for the three other Democratic candidates in the primary race, Concord resident Mara Dolan finished third with 2,047 votes, followed by Alex Buck of Chelmsford with 1,727 votes, and Joe Mullin of Weston with 901 votes, according to preliminary figures from the secretary of state’s office.
The Republican primary wasn’t as close. Sandi Martinez of Chelmsford received nearly 1,000 votes more than her opponent, Greg Howes, a selectman from Concord, and will be facing Barrett in the Nov. 6 final election.
The two top Democratic candidates contend that the votes they won came the old-fashioned way — from hours and hours of volunteers knocking on doors and calling potential voters. Barrett said his campaign knocked on 21,739 doors. McCabe said Kearns Goodwin’s campaign knocked on 24,000 doors (and made 40,000 phone calls).
Barrett, who runs a consulting firm, had already served four terms in the state Senate and three terms in the state House of Representatives almost 20 years ago. He stepped away from elected politics after an unsuccessful run for governor in 1994.
Barrett was the first Democrat to enter the race, launching his bid last December, before the incumbent, state Senator Susan Fargo, announced she would not seek reelection. He was endorsed by US Representative Barney Frank.
His campaign, Barrett said, “was a children’s crusade torn from the playbook of the 1960s and ’70s. We had 24 high school and college interns working from 10 to 30 hours a week.”
Barrett challenged the idea of a low-turnout election. His campaign’s numbers suggested that more than 50 percent of registered Democrats in the district went to the polls.
Kearns Goodwin announced that he was entering the race in April, and many of his supporters said the late entry made his work harder.
“I don’t think he had enough time for the voters to get to know him,” said state Representative Thomas M. Stanley, who endorsed Kearns Goodwin. “He worked his tail off. And I just think he just ran out of time.”
Kearns Goodwin, who graduated from Harvard College and enlisted in the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was endorsed by a host of prominent Democrats, including US Senator John Kerry, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, and former US representative Joe P. Kennedy II, who said he had known Kearns Goodwin his entire life. Fargo also threw her support behind Kearns Goodwin.
His father is Richard Goodwin, who was an adviser to Democratic presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, and his mother is Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Joe Kearns Goodwin raised more than twice as much money as anyone else in the race; his campaign’s supporters included Hollywood movie director Steven Spielberg and the commissioner of Major League Baseball, Allan (Bud) Selig, who each gave $500.
Barrett suggested that the fund-raising actually hurt Kearns Goodwin’s campaign.
“I think the amount of spending in the race created a backlash in my favor,” Barrett said. “People just do not like to see big money obliterate discussion of the merits.”
But supporters of Kearns Goodwin responded that his success at attracting donations should not obscure the hard work he put into the campaign.
“It just so happens that his family knows a lot of people,” Stanley said. “I don’t think you should hold that against a person.”
Some of the politicians who supported Kearns Goodwin said they were won over by his hard work.
State Representative Cory Atkins, a Democrat from Concord who hosted an early campaign event for him, said she got to know Kearns Goodwin when he helped manage, along with her son and another young man, her 1999 campaign.
“He’s got a Rolodex that’s the envy of the world,” Atkins said.
Some of Kearns Goodwin’s supporters say they expect to see him in politics again. The race only intensified his desire to serve, he said, though he has no specific plans.
“We came in a little short,” he said last week. “But I certainly won’t look back on this endeavor with any regret.”