Veteran Democratic US Representative Edward J. Markey beat back a challenge from Republican businessman Gabriel E. Gomez today in a special election for US Senate in Massachusetts that was marked by its brevity and by low voter turnout.
Markey garnered 55 percent of the votes, compared with 45 percent for Gomez, with 99 percent of precincts reporting late this evening. Markey, 66, and Gomez, 47, were vying to fill the seat that Democrat John F. Kerry left vacant when President Obama picked him to be US secretary of state in December.
"I am going to the US Senate to build a bold and bright future filled with optimism and opportunity for every family in the state of Massachusetts and across our great country," Markey proclaimed in his victory speech at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.
He pledged that when he joins the Senate, "I will seek consensus wherever possible. Like you, I am tired of gridlock. But I will never compromise on our principles."
Markey spoke about issues he would promote as a senator, including increased gun control regulation, protecting "a woman's right to choose," and a focus on rebuilding transportation infrastructure.
He also repeatedly touched on environmental issues. "I want to lead the effort to launch a clean energy revolution in our country," he said.
Gomez said in his concession speech, "Sometimes you face overpowering force. I mean, we were massively overspent. We went up against literally the whole national Democratic party and all its allies." At the same time, he said, "I offer absolutely no excuse for coming up short."
"I'm proud to be an American, and tonight, even in defeat, I've never been prouder to be a citizen of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," he said at the Seaport Boston Hotel.
At the Park Plaza, the room broke into applause, first scattered and then sustained and joined by cheers, as NECN-TV announced that Markey was the winner.
The loudest yell came from Lisa Rajczyk, who organized for the Markey campaign in Lawrence. "Yessss!" she screamed, as the results came in. She held her hands in the air in victory for a few seconds, a huge smile on her face.
At the Seaport Boston, Arate Pascucci, who worked for two Republican administrations in Massachusetts, said, "He did the best he could in the time frame he had."
"He worked it," she said. "I think he's a very, very good candidate. He has a future."
The National Republican Senatorial Committee appeared to agree, issuing a statement encouraging Gomez to run again, saying he was "well prepared to win that marathon over the next 16 months," apparently referring to November 2014, when Markey will have to defend his seat in a regular election.
Markey, who has served nearly 37 years in Congress, sought to portray Gomez as too conservative for Massachusetts. Gomez, who has never held elected office, described himself as a "new kind of Republican" who would reach across the aisle in a hyperpartisan Washington.
Gomez had a compelling personal story as the son of Colombian immigrants who grew up to be a Navy pilot and SEAL and went to Harvard Business School before going into business. But his only previous political experience had been a run for selectman in Cohasset, in which he came in third out of three candidates.
From the outset, Gomez faced an uphill battle in the traditionally blue Bay State against a formidable Democratic political operation. Party leaders had vowed never to be beaten again after the humiliating defeat in January 2010 when little-known Republican Scott Brown won the US Senate seat left vacant by the death of liberal icon Edward M. Kennedy.
The Markey-Gomez race was an anomaly for Massachusetts, which has a rich history of spirited Senate races with big, clashing personalities and sharp arguments about the issues.
The race struggled to gain public attention. First, several high-profile names declined to run, including Brown, who lost a reelection battle in November to Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Then, other news events grabbed the media's attention, including the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15.
Some observers even suggested Bay State voters had a case of election fatigue, with tonight's election the third US Senate race in just over three years.
Not surprisingly, given the challenges, turnout was lackluster today as voters slogged to the polls in the third day of a heat wave. Turnout statewide was approximately 27 percent, apparently a record low, and well below the 54 percent turnout in the 2010 special election that propelled Brown to prominence.
In Ward 3, Precinct 3, in Somerville earlier in the day, Adena Schutzberg, a 49-year-old consultant leaving the polls on her bicycle, said, "The election was really annoying. Neither of these gentlemen said anything that changed my plan to vote. I really want this to be over."
She voted for Markey, favoring his record and political alignment, if not exactly electrified by his vision or personality. "I'm a Democrat through and through," she said.
Jim Dolan, a rare Republican in the precinct, wore a GOP elephant-print tie that he had picked up, incongruously, at the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta.
"I'm nervous. I'm supporting Gabriel Gomez today. Polls don't look good, but I'm hoping for a late surge," said Dolan, a 29-year-old economic development executive. "Ed Markey's been in Congress for 37 years. It's time for a change."
Eric Moskowitz, Stephanie Ebbert and Joshua Miller of the Globe staff contributed to this report.