The three Republican candidates battled for a final advantage in the Senate primary Tuesday, while an illness knocked US Representative Stephen F. Lynch off the campaign trail on the critical last day of his Democratic faceoff with US Representative Edward J. Markey.
A stomach bug forced Lynch to cancel six of the seven events he had planned for the day before the primary, a time when all five candidates were pushing to create a sense of momentum in a race that has been overshadowed by the Boston Marathon bombings.
As the candidates made stops across the state, two Democratic groups dispatched camera-wielding operatives to track Gabriel E. Gomez, a sign that the former US Navy SEAL may be gaining on the perceived Republican front-
runner, Michael J. Sullivan.
The third Republican in the race, Daniel B. Winslow, sought to chip away at Gomez by proclaiming an endorsement from a prominent former Gomez backer.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin predicted turnout for Tuesday's special Senate primary will be low, forecasting that about 550,000 ballots would be cast in the Democratic contest, down from the 669,000 cast in the 2009 Democratic special Senate primary won by Martha Coakley.
On the Republican side, Galvin predicted about 200,000 voters will go to the polls, up from 165,000 in the 2009 Republican Senate primary won by Scott Brown.
The longtime secretary of state said requests for absentee ballots, a useful metric in predicting turnout, were down about 20 percent from 2009.
The winners of Tuesday's primary will face one another in a June 25 general election to fill the Senate seat vacated by John F. Kerry, who became secretary of state.
Even on the final day of the primary, the race had little of the drama and excitement that have historically characterized Massachusetts Senate races.
Making a campaign stop at North Station, Markey, the front-runner and establishment favorite, shook hands with commuters, many of whom rushed by after a quick nod and a hello. Surrounding him were a handful of supporters in green Markey T-shirts. Later in the day, he held a rally before a larger crowd in Malden.
"We are right now working hard to have the highest possible turnout ever," Markey said.
Lynch, hoping to stage an upset powered by labor support, marched with union members down Old Colony Avenue in South Boston to the Iron Workers Local 7 hall, where he was once president.
"Mark my words: This is a promise. I'm not being cocky; I'm not trash talking. I'm not," Lynch declared. "But we're going to win tomorrow."
But as candidates focused on motivating politically active voters, most indications suggested the electorate has not taken much interest in the race.
"Normally, we'd be getting people calling and checking on their voting status and e-mailing us, and we're really not getting that today," said Geraldine Cuddyer, chairwoman of Boston's Election Commission. "From our perspective, it's a very quiet day before the election, which tends to indicate it will be a quiet election day."
In Barnstable, a traditional Republican community, Town Clerk Linda Hutchenrider said about 250 voters have requested absentee ballots for Tuesday's election, compared to about 2,000 in last year's presidential election.
"A lot of people are waiting until others make the choice for them and will probably come out in June," she said. "It does not appear there's a lot of interest. I don't think we're going to have a busy day tomorrow."
In Springfield, a Democratic stronghold where Lynch has been courting blue-collar voters, Chelsea Parmentier, a city election official, said that when she mentions the primary to voters who come to her office, many are surprised.
"'Oh, there's an election?'" is a common response, she said.
The candidates were still determined to show energy on the trail Monday.
Winslow, a state representative and former district court judge, boasted that he had been endorsed by Rachel Kemp, a GOP state committeewoman from Dorchester and a former cochairwoman of Women for Gomez. Kemp said she is backing Winslow because she believes he is committed to improving education and job opportunities in the city.
"Dan is the only one who has brought that message to the urban core," she said. "Dan is also a known commodity. He's been here before, and the other candidates haven't."
Gomez, a private equity investor making his first run for high office, basked in the attention he was getting from the two camera-wielding operatives who followed him on the campaign trail, recording his events, in hopes of capturing him making a gaffe that could be used against him in the general election. One tracker said he had been dispatched by the state Democratic Party, the other by Patriot Majority, a liberal group. Gomez said the attention could be a sign his campaign is surging.
"Before I started the campaign, I had no idea what a tracker was," he said at Blue Moon Pizzeria in Norwell, where he picked up three pizzas for a subsequent visit to a State Police barracks. "I'm still not sure what their mission is," Gomez said with a laugh.
Sullivan, a former US attorney and former state representative, stopped at 5 p.m. at Jimmy's Broad Street Diner to find about 16 patrons in the Weymouth restaurant. He took just a few minutes to greet the diners and thank the staff and said he is optimistic about Tuesday. "You just feel the sense of momentum over these last seven or 10 days," he told two reporters outside the diner.
Michael Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.