REVERE — If you’re a Senate candidate, does it help to have your name on a bridge, or hurt?
Ed Markey stood on a frigid corner by Kelly’s Roast Beef a few days ago, the wind whipping his unmistakable thatch of thick hair, his voice rising.
“We are here at the place where my mother took my brothers and I on the blue bus from Malden,” he said to 50 supporters. “She brought peanut butter sandwiches, and a thermos filled with orange Kool-Aid. . . . It was a wonderland for every parent and child.”
He has ventured down this memory lane before. In his 36 years in Congress, Markey has delivered many gifts to, and speeches at, his childhood paradise. After the Blizzard of ’78, he helped bring in the Army Corps of Engineers to clean up. He worked for two decades to make the beach a historic landmark. He secured millions for a whiz-bang renovation of the T station, including a new footbridge connecting it to the waterfront. The bridge was named for his parents.
He has been around a long time. That is his strength, and his weakness, as he battles Republican Gabriel Gomez in the special election for Secretary of State John Kerry’s old seat. In Washington, he has built up serious clout, and made big changes — for his district and beyond: He has pushed for tougher environmental regulations, demanded BP show video of its Gulf oil spill, defended abortion rights. With a record miles long, he is the most knowable of quantities. And many who know him love him.
“I remember you from 1978,” said a woman with a walker on Revere Beach Boulevard. He asked for her support. She and her star-struck friends said they were with him all the way.
But we’ve had a penchant for fresh faces here in recent years: Deval Patrick, Scott Brown, Elizabeth Warren. We like electricity. And it’s hard to get a current going when you’ve been around as long as Markey has, especially when your newcomer opponent is a Latino former Navy SEAL.
Gomez intrigues Tom Butler, who sat at the bar at Antonia’s when Markey walked in. The floor installer voted for Patrick and President Obama, and twice for Republican Brown.
“I really like Gomez,” he said. “He’s Spanish, and [I like] his military record. But Markey, he’s a sweetheart. I’d like to see them in a debate.”
So would Markey. If the election turns on issues, the congressman will be hard to beat. Just six months ago, voters here overwhelmingly bought what Warren was selling: fairer taxes, accountability for banks, abortion rights. (A tip for Gomez: You might want to learn about the Stupak and Blunt amendments at some point.) While the assault weapons ban and the Obamacare Gomez opposes might be tough sells elsewhere, they’re old news — and popular — here.
Warren won by tying Brown to a national GOP agenda, and Markey is clearly hoping the same approach will foil Gomez’s attempt to brand him as a congressional Miss Havisham. “He’s using the oldest ideas the Republican Party has,” Markey said. “Are we going to go backwards? Elizabeth Warren needs a partner.”
Gomez is hoping for a repeat of another Senate race: Brown’s stunning 2010 throw-the-bums-out victory over Martha Coakley. She was criticized for not working hard enough that year. An unfounded rumor stuck that she went on vacation before the election. (Local Dems also napped, a mistake they won’t repeat.) Gomez has made the same hiding-from-voters charge .
In Revere, Markey worked to counter it, hitting three restaurants and an elderly housing facility, squeezing shoulders, asking anybody who made eye contact for their votes.
“This is the big push now, we’re on a sprint,” he told a supporter.
“Just don’t go on any vacations before the election,” the man said.
By then, the man with his name on a bridge was on to more shoulders, and out of earshot.
Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org