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    Assessing the five would-be senators

    On Tuesday, voters will make their primary choice in our latest special election for the US Senate.

    So let’s look at how the five hopefuls might function in Congress’s upper chamber.

    Ed Markey: What voters would get with the Democratic front-runner is an effective liberal lawmaker who knows the legislative process and has a demonstrated ability to get important things done. He’s patient, determined, and dogged on the liberal, environmental, and green energy causes he has made his specialty.


    What they won’t get is a particularly independent thinker or a senator willing to speak tough truths to Democratic constituencies. On issues like the deficit and entitlement reform, the habitually cautious Markey would be unlikely to join one of the Senate’s groups (or gangs) in trying to broker a bipartisan compromise. He’d more likely be part of a bloc of liberal legislators holding down his party’s left flank and opposing even reasonable changes. His colleagues would generally like him and respect his work ethic, but they’d also view him as a little goofy — and more than a little garrulous.

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    Mike Sullivan: In a Senate full of big egos, the Republican front-runner would be a low-key, hard-working member, one who wasn’t consumed with TV face time. Sullivan, who as US attorney played a hands-on role in prosecuting shoe bomber Richard Reid, would also bring a tough former lawman’s perspective to lawmaking.

    There’s little to suggest that Sullivan would use that experience to offer a break-from-the-box perspective, however. Like Markey on the left, he would be reluctant to question starboard-side verities on controversial issues. As a conservative senator representing a largely liberal state, he’d follow public opinion rather than lead it on social issues — and devote considerable effort to finessing the tension between his own views and those of Bay State voters.

    Stephen Lynch: As he has been in the House, Lynch would be a sympathetic ear and supportive voice for organized labor, willing to promote their cause and push their issues on the Senate stage. He’d also focus energetically on protecting Massachusetts’ interests and on meeting the state’s nuts-and-bolts needs.

    He would not, however, be a big-picture senator or a see-around-the-corner leader on national issues. Nor would he prove adept at the personal relationships that help the best senators succeed. In the House, Lynch has been a loner whose occasionally brusque manner has sometimes alienated even fellow Democrats. Absent a sudden midlife emotional-IQ growth spurt, there’s little reason to think he’d be different as a senator.


    Dan Winslow: The most intellectually eclectic of the candidates, Winslow prides himself on his ability to find creative solutions and on being bold enough to take early stands, even at the risk of being wrong. Those qualities — plus his politics-isn’t-personal gregariousness — have made him a newsmaking force at the State House even though he’s only in his second term as a state representative. They could also make him a Senate standout, a figure with real appeal to the independents that a GOP senator would need to hold the seat in subsequent, non-special, elections.

    That said, it remains to be seen whether Winslow has the perseverance and persuasiveness needed to get things done in today’s Senate. Without those twin talents, the risk is that he’d be less an influential iconoclast than a mere political gadabout given to attention-getting gimmickry.

    Gabriel Gomez: A man who combines both military and business experience, Gomez would be eye-catchingly different from the rest of the Massachusetts delegation. Add to that his Latino heritage, and this Republican fresh face would be the instant focus of national attention. But as an often-nervous public presence and a political neophyte whose views are a work in progress, it’s not clear how he’d meet that opportunity. Or whether he has the skill to effectively represent a left-leaning state as a moderate member of a conservative party in a frequently dysfunctional body. He might succeed like Marco Rubio. But he’d be just as likely to stumble and tumble like Scott Brown.

    Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.