The Senate contest between US Representative Ed Markey and businessman Gabriel Gomez, who won their parties’ nominations last night, has one obvious fault line: experience. Markey has so much — almost 37 years in Congress — that some voters seemed, fairly or not, to be yearning for a fresher option. Gomez certainly looks fresh; his only political experience was an unsuccessful, little-publicized run for Cohasset selectman a decade ago.
What propelled Gomez to victory in the Republican primary Tuesday, along with a major spending advantage, was his resume. A former Navy SEAL turned private equity millionaire, Gomez is a son-of-immigrants success story who can credibly claim to speak for a new breed of Massachusetts voter. He deserves a chance to make that case.
Markey can’t make that claim, and would be foolish to try. Rather, he must persuade Massachusetts voters, new and old, that his record of legislative accomplishments will translate to the Senate and pay off in tangible ways for Bay State voters. The next senator will fill a year and a half of John Kerry’s remaining term — a period of time that would have marked Kerry’s 30th year in the chamber. When combined with the 47 years of seniority lost upon the death of Senator Edward Kennedy in 2009, Massachusetts is suddenly without more than three-quarters of a century of experience in the US Senate.
How valuable is such experience? Markey shouldn’t assume that voters will gravitate toward him simply because he has nearly four decades in Washington behind him. He needs to chart a legislative game plan to turn his clout into action. Along the way, he needs to shake off the rust that was evident in his debate performances against his surprisingly strong primary challenger, Stephen Lynch; Markey’s competence was evident, but his spirit seemed to be lacking.
For most voters, Gomez is a blank slate. In the primary, he campaigned as a centrist, eager to work with President Obama. But he never claimed any particular cause as his own, and he sometimes seemed to be making up his mind on issues as he went along. A kind of affable dilettantism served Scott Brown well in his special election against a long-serving Democrat; it also helped doom his reelection campaign last November. Gomez isn’t likely to push the Brown comparison too far. But he should keep in mind that Brown, at a similar stage in his career, had 12 years as a state representative and state senator under his belt.
As a politician, the 47-year-old Gomez has to grow up fast. And Ed Markey has to realize that, even at age 66, politicians have to show themselves to be capable of growth.