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With Special Election Looming, Obama Stumps for Markey in Boston

Approximately 5,400 Turn Out for Rally in Roxbury

President Barack Obama addresses a crowd of approximately 5,400 at a rally for U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey, the Democratic nominee for the state's open Senate seat, in Roxbury Community College’s Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center Wednesday. Markey will face off against his Republican opponent Gabriel E. Gomez in a June 25 special election.
President Barack Obama addresses a crowd of approximately 5,400 at a rally for U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey, the Democratic nominee for the state's open Senate seat, in Roxbury Community College’s Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center Wednesday. Markey will face off against his Republican opponent Gabriel E. Gomez in a June 25 special election.
By Matthew Q. Clarida, Crimson Staff Writer

ROXBURY—Speaking at a rally here on Wednesday, President Barack Obama urged a crowd of over 5,000 to back U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey of Malden, the Democrat who polls and analysts say is the favorite in the June 25 special election to fill the Commonwealth’s open Senate seat.

Obama, sans suit jacket and with shirtsleeves rolled up, took the stage at Roxbury Community College’s Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center shortly before 1:30 p.m. Inside the track, an estimated 5,400 Markey supporters had been assembled for over an hour, while approximately 2,000 more waited outside just to catch a glimpse of the presidential motorcade. After greeting the crowd and pausing to wait out a loud ovation, the President made his pitch.

“It is great to be here with the next Senator from Massachusetts,” he said of Markey, sending the crowd into another wave of cheers. Markey is facing Republican businessman and former Navy SEAL Gabriel E. Gomez in the upcoming special election.

As Obama ticked off a few bullet points from Markey’s biography, he sought to draw parallels between the veteran congressman and Secretary of State John F. Kerry, the man who held the now-vacant seat for 28 years. He also likened Markey to Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56, a longtime progressive voice in the Senate who championed health care reform, among other issues.

“The history of Senators from Massachusetts is they fight for people, they fight for working people, they fight for working families, they fight for future generations,” Obama said.

“Nobody is better suited to continue that legacy than Ed Markey because Ed is one of you,” the President added. He noted that Markey, the son of a milk-truck driver, sold ice cream during his college years to help pay tuition and bills.

Throughout his speech, Obama engaged the crowd with his characteristic oratory; at one point, he even reprised the ubiquitous slogan used in both of his presidential campaigns, “Yes We Can,” to the delight of the audience, and at another point he was forced to pause when chants of “O-BAM-A” drowned out his voice.

During his speech, Obama said that Markey would be an important ally for his agenda in the Senate, where the Democrats hold 52 seats to the Republicans’ 46. But the Democrats’ figure includes William ‘Mo’ Cowan, who was named interim Senator by Gov. Deval L. Patrick ’78 in January after Kerry was confirmed as Secretary of State. Thus, a Markey loss would leave the Democrats with the weakest of majorities—51 seats—in the Senate, and Obama said that pressing priorities such as immigration reform, gun control, and the implementation of health care reform make the Commonwealth’s vacant seat a must-have for his party.

“The fact of the matter is, a whole bunch of Republicans out there are not interested in getting things done,” Obama said. “Because of those attitudes, we’ve got to have some Democrats like Ed Markey who will stand up and do the right thing. That’s what we need.”

Obama then turned to the task at hand—getting Markey elected. Though most analysts and a number of polls say Markey has a comfortable lead, one recent survey conducted by Republican pollsters shows Markey with a one percentage point advantage over Gomez.

“We’ve got a whole lot of Democrats in this state and a whole lot of Obama voters,” Obama said in closing. “But you can’t just turn out during a presidential election. You’ve got to turn out in this election. You can’t think, ‘Oh, I did my work in 2012.’ You’ve got some work to do right now in 2013.”

The President spoke for 23 minutes and then spent about 10 minutes shaking hands in front of the stage. By 2 p.m., he was back on the road to Boston Logan International Airport where he boarded Air Force One and headed for an evening of fundraising for his party in Miami.

While it was certainly the most notable, Obama’s visit was not the first high-profile endorsement Markey has received. First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a fundraiser for Markey in Boston on May 29, where ticket prices soared to as much as $37,600 per attendee. In Washington, D.C., last week, Vice President Joe Biden was the keynote guest at another fundraiser for Markey. And in recent weeks, Senator Elizabeth Warren, the former Harvard Law School professor who won the state’s other Senate seat by defeating incumbent Republican Scott P. Brown last November, has been by Markey’s side at certain campaign events. Patrick, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, and a host of other Democrats have also flocked to support Markey.

The outpouring of assistance is indicative of a race that the Democratic Party wants to be sure it wins, especially after Brown notched a surprising victory in 2010, defeating Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, analysts and voters say. Coakley, who was also paid a visit by Obama in 2010, was perceived by some as a complacent candidate who rested too heavily on the adage that, in deep-blue Massachusetts, a Democrat could not lose.

Following Coakley’s defeat, ‘we can’t take anything for granted anymore in Massachusetts,” said one Markey supporter, Shey Jaboin of Salem. “We know we have to work, and to [build] a grassroots operation.”

At least for her, Jaboin said, the President’s visit had the desired effect.

“You can’t see him and not be energized,” she said of Obama. “The link between [Obama] and congressman Markey, it’s heartwarming to see that.”

Dan Payne, a Democratic strategist who has worked with Markey, also said that memories from 2010 have created a sense of urgency among Democrats.

“The Coakley debacle...energizes Democrats, reminds them that you can’t take Massachusetts for granted,” Payne said in a phone interview. In 2010, he said, Massachusetts voters might have been frustrated with a slow economy and a future made uncertain by the new Affordable Care Act, Obama’s landmark healthcare law. But since then, Payne said, things have looked up as the state has seen its economy improve faster than the that of the broader nation.

“I’ve talked to a couple of pollsters...they say there was a lot of anger in Massachusetts when Coakley ran against Brown, and [voters] took it out on Coakley,” Payne said. “Now, [voters] generally feel that incumbents are doing as good a job as they can.”

For his part, Payne pegged Markey as the favorite by a larger margin than some recent polls, estimating that his lead over Gomez stood between 7 and 10 points.

—Staff writer Matthew Q. Clarida can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MattClarida.

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