Can lightning strike twice in one place? Not according to folklore, but when did Massachusetts ever comply with convention? When it comes to special elections in the Bay State, anything is possible.
Based on current polling and demographic data, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, businessman and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez, has an uphill climb to try to defeat the Democratic candidate, U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, in the upcoming June 25th special election to replace Secretary of State John Kerry. However, Republican Scott Brown's stunning 2010 special election upset suggests all things are possible in this unique state. Let us consider factors that support and hinder a repeat performance for Republicans the Bay State.
Factors suggesting Massachusetts will stay true to its blue leanings:
• Recent polls show a high single digit lead for Rep. Markey.
• Scott Brown's historic victory to replace legendary Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy was in many ways made possible by an over-confident Democratic candidate that took her election for granted. Rep. Markey is unlikely to repeat this mistake.
• The overall political environment is much different than 2010 as well. The economy has more or less stabilized, and the division of power in the Capitol means there isn't a single party controlling all of Washington with large scale plans to overhaul government. That reduces the sense of urgency for some voters.
Factors suggesting possibility of a Republican upset:
• Though leading the matchup, poll numbers imply that Markey has been unable to seal the deal in a state that President Obama won by more than 20 points in 2012.
• Gomez gets high marks among Hispanics, a traditionally Democratic voting bloc.
• Strange things happen in special elections -- a late breaking surge for Gomez combined with a low-turnout (e.g. "the weather's too nice to wait in line to vote," "last night's Stanley Cup game 6 between Chicago and Boston went into overtime and I'm tired") election is not inconceivable
• The "who would you rather have a beer with" factor: while Markey's bombastic style fires up liberals, it could be a put-off to some blue-collar Bay Staters.
It is likely that President Obama was confident that Democrats would be able to hold Massachusetts when he decided to nominate then Senator John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. While the odds are his assumption will hold true, special elections are by their very definition "special" and can end with unexpected results.
Hon. Mark R. Kennedy leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).