The race to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy – known as the Senate’s liberal lion – has stayed true to his liberal politics and the strong Democratic nature of his home state.
When voters in Massachusetts head to the polls Tuesday for a primary– their first step in deciding who will serve out the remaining two years of Senator Kennedy’s term – they’ll essentially choose from four Democratic candidates who tend to skew pretty far left on the political spectrum.
All are against the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, and they are in favor of abortion rights and of a public option for healthcare reform. They’d like to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which does not recognize gay marriages. And they’d like to give illegal immigrants “a path to citizenship,” as front-runner Martha Coakley said at a campaign event Nov. 25.
“It makes it easier for them to put their true beliefs on table,” says Mr. Payne. “They can all be against the troop buildup in Afghanistan, for example.”
It’s especially easy to advertise these positions during the primary season. Historically, voters who turn out for primaries and off-cycle elections tend to be older and very active politically – perhaps in unions or with personal political causes they care about deeply.
Voters are not used to turning out in December, when people are focused on the upcoming holidays, says Mr. Paleologos. According to his estimate, only 500,000 voters will cast ballots Tuesday. That’s about 11 percent of those who were registered in 2008, the most recent year for which voter-registration data is available.
“The audience is going to be very small, very sophisticated politically,” Payne says. “They’re going to be hard-core Democrats.”
Indeed, candidates haven’t had to try to court independent or centrist voters, at least so far.
“Even in Massachusetts in a general election, you have to appeal somewhat to an independent voter,” says Stephen Ansolabehere, professor of government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. “They’re not a factor in this race.”
At a polling center in downtown Boston early Tuesday morning, there were 24 voter stations, but only two were in use. The polls had been open for nearly two hours, but the counter on the ballot box read 92.
The Massachusetts primary is also a difficult sell to voters because only one contest is on the ballot and “there hasn’t been a real spark on any issue,” says Paleologos. The Democratic candidates, after all, agree on most issues.
The most recent poll heading into Tuesday’s primary showed Ms. Coakley, currently Massachusetts’ attorney general, in the lead. She had the support of 36 percent of likely Democratic voters, according to a Nov. 23 survey by Rasmussen Reports. Her closest rival, Rep. Michael Capuano, trailed her by 15 percentage points. The two other candidates, Alan Khazei and Stephen Pagliuca, were each back by another seven points. Ten percent of likely Democratic voters were undecided.
On the Republican side, state Sen. Scott Brown is running against businessman Jack E. Robinson. A Suffolk University poll last month of likely Republican voters found Senator Brown leading Mr. Robinson 45 percent to 7 percent, with 47 percent undecided.
Tuesday’s primary will be followed by a general election Jan. 19. Because Democrats enjoy such a strong majority in Massachusetts, whoever wins the Democratic nomination is heavily favored to win next month.
Follow us on Twitter.