Scott Brown, in an attempt to define a potential Senate campaign rival before the race even kicks off, questioned Wednesday whether US Representative Edward J. Markey is a bona fide resident of Massachusetts.
Brown took to talk radio, his favored venue, to question whether Markey, the Malden Democrat whose Senate candidacy top Democrats are rallying around, spends too much time in Washington and not enough time in the Bay State.
The early skirmish was a reminder that the campaign season, seemingly over after the November election, is beginning again as politicians scramble for the seat likely to be vacated by Senator John F. Kerry, who is expected to be confirmed later this month as secretary of state.
Brown, a Republican who has given strong hints that he is running, is heavily leaning toward another campaign, but has not yet made a decision, according to a person familiar with his deliberations. He is assessing the strength of potential Democratic opponents, the person said.
The senator made the comments on the same day that leading Democrats, including state party chairman John Walsh, and Doug Rubin, the campaign consultant who helped Elizabeth Warren oust Brown, met with top donors and union officials to lay out a special election strategy. Party spokesman Kevin Franck said the Democrats have hired Rubin, a former political strategist to Governor Deval Patrick, to help focus their plan.
“In the 2010 special election for US Senate, we dropped the ball, and we’re not going to make that mistake again,” Franck said in a statement.
Rubin, in an interview, called the meeting an effort to learn from the party’s 2010 special election loss to Brown, as well as an attempt to ensure that activists are engaged early in the short timeframe of another special election.
Meanwhile, Markey met privately Tuesday with a potential rival in the Democratic primary, US Representative Michael E. Capuano of Somerville, according to a person briefed on the meeting. The person said Capuano expressed frustration over the early involvement of Kerry and Victoria Kennedy, both of whom announced strong support for Markey late last week.
Capuano and US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, Democrat of South Boston, are each considering a run, though they have yet to make an announcement.
Brown appears to see Markey as his biggest threat at this stage. When asked in the radio interview Wednesday whether he was running, Brown questioned whether Markey is a legitimate resident, a charge that has been leveled at the congressman during past campaigns.
“I’ll tell you what; They’re making it awfully tempting. You got Ed Markey: Does he even live here any more?” Brown said with a laugh as he called into the “Jim & Margery Show” on WTKK-FM.
“You’ve got to check the travel records,” Brown added. “I’ve come back and forth [from Washington to Boston] every weekend almost for three years, and I see, you know, most of the delegation, and I have never seen Ed on the airplane, ever.”
Massachusetts election law does not require members of Congress to live in their districts, only that they be a state “inhabitant” when elected.
Congressional records show that between January 2011 and the end of September 2012, Markey spent less on travel for him and his staff than all but two other members of the state’s House delegation. Markey spent $23,700 over that period. The biggest travel spender among the delegation, Democrat William R. Keating of Bourne, spent $89,034.49 in that period.
The congressional records, which include travel by House members and their staff, do not always specify how many trips took place and whether they were to home districts.
Markey campaign spokeswoman Giselle Barry said the congressman took the equivalent of 34 round trips between Boston and Washington in 2012, including some paid for with personal and campaign funds.
“Ed Markey lives in Malden and has lived there his entire life,” Barry said in a statement. “He and his wife own their home in Malden. He is proud to come from and represent the values of the people of Malden. This campaign should be about what matters most to the people of Massachusetts: jobs, education, health care, and the environment.”
Markey was born in Malden and has long used his parents’ house as his official Massachusetts residence. He and his wife, Susan Blumenthal, a doctor and health care consultant, own a home in Chevy Chase, Md.
Following the death of Markey’s father in 2000, the congressman bought his family house and continues to maintain it as his voting address.
Markey’s political opponents have tried to use the issue against him. During the 2010 election, challenger Gerry Dembrowski, a Woburn Republican, videotaped interviews with neighbors in Malden asking whether they had ever seen Markey in his home. Most knew his house was there, but said they had not seen him.
The video called “Ed Markey: The Undocumented Congressman,” was posted on YouTube, but it did not stop Markey from winning that year’s race in a 2-1 landslide.
It is not uncommon for House members’ families to live in Washington. Brown’s wife, Gail Huff, moved with him there, taking a job as a local television journalist after her husband’s special election victory. Brown himself transferred from the Massachusetts National Guard last year to the Maryland National Guard.
Supporters said Markey has attended several events in his district, including breakfasts and a recent naming of a bridge in Revere for his parents. The Framingham town manager, Robert J. Halpin, said he sees Markey about twice a month and that the congressman has been responsive to the needs of the town. The mayor of Malden, Gary Christenson, released a statement Wednesday calling Markey a local presence who frequently shoots hoops at the YMCA. He also praised the congressman for helping to secure $51 million for a baseball park.
Markey seems aware that the residency issue could be used against him. In a recent private poll he conducted to assess his chances in a special election, the congressman’s pollster asked whether Markey is seen as spending too much time in Washington and if, after 36 years in the House, he does not come back to his district enough.