There was nothing about the pace of the US Senate race Wednesday indicating that election day is just six days away.
Democratic nominee Edward J. Markey limited his public schedule to a hand-shaking session disclosed less than an hour ahead of time.
Markey, whose light campaign schedule has raised alarms among some Democrats fearful that he is not maintaining a sufficient public profile, greeted voters outside the Kenmore Square T station during the evening commute, an appearance his campaign announced shortly before 4:30 p.m.
Markey’s opponent, Republican nominee Gabriel E. Gomez, kept a more active schedule, with three stops announced by his campaign, including a fund-raising lunch at the World Trade Center, a town hall forum in Dartmouth that Markey did not attend, and a stop at a Fall River sports bar to watch the Bruins game.
Traditionally, the final week of a campaign prompts a frenetic pace of leave-no-stone-unturned efforts to interact with the maximum number of voters possible. The closing days of last year’s Senate race between Elizabeth Warren and then-Senator Scott P. Brown were overshadowed by Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath, which led to a canceled debate.
But both candidates spent the final days building significantly higher public profiles. On the Wednesday before that election, both campaigned in storm-beaten communities before welcoming trick-or-treaters, and reporters, to their homes for Halloween.
This year’s June 25 special election has failed to generate the same kind of excitement that surrounded the state’s last two US Senate races. A poll conducted last week for the Globe by the University of New Hampshire found that, even among likely voters, only 25 percent said they were extremely interested in the contest. Thirty-four percent reported being very interested, and 41 percent were somewhat or not very interested.
During the 2010 special Senate election, held following Edward M. Kennedy’s death and won by Brown, 70 percent of likely voters said they were extremely or very interested.
Polls also show Markey with a commanding lead over Gomez; the Globe poll showed the veteran congressman ahead by 13 points.
Add to that the heavy numerical advantage Democrats enjoy in Massachusetts, and a party leadership resolutely committed to not losing another special Senate election, and — observers say — Markey has every incentive to lay low and avoid any possible gaffes that his opponent could exploit.
“I think he has a comfortable lead and I suspect that this strategy is predicated on the reality that he’s 10 to 15 points ahead of him, and why give [Gomez] any opportunities at this late date,” said William D. Delahunt, a former Democratic representative. “Hell, tomorrow’s Thursday and the election’s on Tuesday.”
Delahunt predicted that Markey will not face the type of anti-Democratic backlash that Brown seized and rode to victory over Attorney General Martha Coakley in 2010, at a time when Obama’s health care law hung in the balance.
“That defeat came from Washington. We were not, I think, responding as we should have to the Republican attacks on Obama. I remember telling the president that,” Delahunt said. “We just kind of rolled over, and didn’t respond. But that’s not the case now.”
Standing outside Kenmore Station, Markey on Wednesday exuded confidence, while also noting that “overconfidence breeds complacency, and complacency breeds disaster.’’ He dismissed a question about whether his campaign schedule was too light.
He said he had prepared to meet with editors from the MetroWest Daily News, met with them, then spoke with several news agencies and appeared on a television show. Then, he said, he called groups to invite them to a rally on Saturday with Vice President Joseph R. Biden. He touched base with labor unions and made fund-raising calls, he said.
His pace, Markey told reporters, would accelerate in the race’s closing days.
“You have to do all parts of the campaign. But as of later on tomorrow it’s just going to be one straight line towards ensuring that I’m criss-crossing the state and meeting the voters in all parts of the Commonwealth,” Markey said. “Although I will have to get ready for the board of editors of the New Bedford Standard-Times, because I have to go in for their editorial board meeting. And there’s many meetings like that, that just absolutely have to be done, as well.”
Gomez’s campaign has repeatedly tried to push the idea that Markey has been absent from the campaign trail. On Wednesday, the Cohasset Republican breezed into his fund-raiser lunch wearing his trademark green Navy flight jacket and greeted a handful of VIP attendees who had paid a minimum of $500 to meet the candidate at a smaller gathering.
At the main luncheon, Gomez told the crowd that he expected “a very low turnout” so every single vote was crucial. “Please tell your friends and have your friends tell their friends,” he said.
In a media availability outside the event, Gomez reiterated points he had made at the final televised debate on Tuesday night, highlighting Markey’s nearly 37 years in the US House of Representatives and what he said was his failure to get big things done. “Social Security hasn’t been reformed, immigration hasn’t been reformed, we don’t have a comprehensive tax reform done,” he said.
“I’m just asking the voters: give me 17 months and I’m going to keep my word,” he said.
Democrats have grumbled quietly that Markey has not campaigned robustly enough. Markey aides say that many of his events have been private sessions with important potential supporters.
After a May 25 rally in Dorchester where he endorsed Markey, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said he had urged the Malden Democrat to campaign more vigorously.
“I can’t explain that,” Menino said when asked of Markey’s relatively light campaign schedule and record, at the time, of missing 40 consecutive House votes. “I just know what he’s done as a congressman. I’ve known his record. He’s been able to deliver for Massachusetts; he’s been able to deliver for Boston. Sustainability, safer, making Boston a better city.”