Joan Vennochi

Democrats for democracy? Not in Mass.

Democrats against democracy. There they go again.

In 2012, the Democratic establishment cleared the primary field so Elizabeth Warren could run for US Senate. Now, party leaders want to do the same for US Representative Edward Markey.

Senator John Kerry, whose seat opens up once he’s confirmed as the next secretary of state, swiftly threw his support to Markey. So did Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy. As if anybody beyond Washington really cares, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also issued statements of support for Markey.

Edward Markey was first elected to the US House of  Representatives in 1976.
Edward Markey was first elected to the US House of Representatives in 1976.(AP)

But this time, it could be harder to clear a path for the anointed one. For one thing, US Representative Michael Capuano, one would-be Senate candidate, is no Marisa DeFranco.


DeFranco, a feisty but little-known political novice, refused to bow out after Warren jumped into the race. No matter; party leaders easily shoved her off the primary ballot at the state convention.

Capuano is less easily disrespected. He’s an incumbent with a sharp tongue and elbows, and followers who appreciate both. He also has the experience that comes with losing a Senate primary to Martha Coakley. Capuano’s response to Markey’s attempted coup was true to his pugnacious character. If he chooses to run, Capuano said he will run as he always has: “from the streets up, not from the elite down.”

Think about that, Democrats. Isn’t a run from “the streets up” something to think about against the now-outgoing Senator Scott Brown? To beat Coakley, Brown cast himself as Everyman in a barn jacket and pickup truck. His regular guy status was a large part of his initial appeal.

Last November, Brown lost to Warren, the hand-picked candidate of the elites. But Markey is no Warren. He lacks her star power and her national image as a fighter.

On the campaign trail, Markey speaks with passion for the little guy, but he hasn’t faced a real challenger in 36 years. His audience is usually there to hear the candidate he’s introducing. Thanks to Markey, BP was forced to post a live video feed of oil spewing into the ocean after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. But his focus on energy and the environment receives little scrutiny beyond the Beltway. Malden is Markey’s home city, but the Beltway is basically home, since he primarily lives in Chevy Chase, Md.


On a morning radio show, Brown took an early warning shot at the residence issue, saying of Markey, “Does he even live here?”

Markey didn’t respond immediately to Brown’s jibe. When he announced plans to run for the Senate — or, rather, walk majestically towards it — he took no press questions. Does that sound like a battle-ready candidate? No, it sounds like a candidate who hasn’t had to fight to win for a long time.

Democrats are terrified of a rematch with Brown, even though he lost a lot of luster in his showdown with Warren. He ran a tough, “streets up” campaign, breaking conventional rules about how to run against a female opponent. During debates, he relentlessly questioned her ethnicity and ties to Massachusetts. Whatever doubts he raised with voters weren’t enough to beat her.

Warren was able to focus voters’ attention on the national Republican agenda and whether Brown would be forced to support it. She also had the benefit of running in a presidential election year, when Massachusetts Democrats were determined to show their love for President Obama over former Governor Mitt Romney. Even with those advantages, her campaign experienced the bumpy moments that are often associated with untested candidates; a primary might have offered a good road test for curves ahead.


At least in Warren, the party elite got behind an atypical Bay State candidate — a woman who wasn’t born in Massachusetts and had never before held political office. Now they want to anoint someone who served in Washington during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Markey’s would-be rivals are also longtime incumbents.

The snore factor is huge. A primary fight could at least wake up the voters and get them to refocus on politicians who are mostly familiar to them as lifetime members of a lockstep delegation. Are there any real differences between them? Who can best take the fight to Brown, if he’s the Republican nominee?

Voters, not the party elite, should be the deciders. That’s what democracy is all about.

But Democrats like democracy for everyone but Democrats.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.