Despite occasional fears of a close race, Democrat Ed Markey defeated Republican Gabrielle Gomez by 10 points in last night’s special election. The results aren't a surprise, since non-partisan polls showed Markey up by a similar margin. And no one should have been surprised by Markey’s clear lead, since he outspent his Republican opponent in one of the most reliably Democratic states in the country.
Whether Republicans should be satisfied by Gomez’s performance hinges on the comparison. Compared to Romney, who lost by more than 20 points, Gomez’s 10 point loss looks pretty good—especially since Gomez was outspent by a 3:1 margin. Extremely low turnout probably helped Gomez—a reminder that Republicans can do alright in blue states in midterm elections.
On the other hand, a comparison to Scott Brown isn’t so flattering. He did worse than Brown in 2012, even though turnout was probably more favorable for the GOP. Money is an easy excuse—and it will figure centrally in the GOP’s glass-half full take. The fact that Gomez wasn’t as good of a candidate as Brown must also be considered part of the explanation. But Gomez was also more conservative than Brown, and that might be part of the explanation.
The evidence is in eastern Massachusetts. Markey performed better in the Boston metropolitan area than Senator Elizabeth Warren or Martha Coakley, the losing candidate in 2010’s special election. Some of Markey’s strength might have come from his home district, which winds around Boston’s inner suburbs. But Markey also might have benefited from some of the differences between Gomez and former Senator Scott Brown, and 2010 and 2012: Gomez is pro-life, Brown is pro-choice; guns weren’t an issue when Brown ran, guns were an issue in 2013.
But most importantly, the race is a reminder that it isn't early 2010, when anti-Obama sentiment was at its peak and Scott Brown rode his pick-up truck to victory. Markey's clean victory, as well as the low turnout, suggest that outrage toward Washington has diminished.