After enduring weeks of acronym-heavy scandalmania — IRS! DOJ! NSA! — President Obama is refocusing on his favorite acronym from the stump: GOP. Yes, Obama is back — albeit temporarily — in campaign mode, on the occasion of the special Senate race in Massachusetts, between longtime Democratic Congressman Edward Markey and Republican newcomer Gabriel Gomez (pictured right), to replace the seat vacated by Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this year. Sure, there have been the Politico trend pieces — "Obama goes quiet"; "Obama-knows-best goes bust" — as the president has turned this week to immigration and the Equal Pay Act and... Peru, and as his schedule has filled up in recent weeks with DNCC campaign events to raise money for 2014.
But on Wednesday morning, Obama came to fill the seat he opened up by nominating Kerry. And he came to Boston without any of the off-the-cuff Bidenisms from his own running mate the night before, alighting on Roxbury Crossing to stump for Markey, whose lead over Gomez, a former Navy SEAL and current private equity executive, has thinned in recent days. According to a transcript of his delivered remarks, Obama used the local event, ostensibly dedicated to one candidate in Senate race, to criticize House Republicans in Washington:
Do you know that the House Republicans have held nearly 40 votes to repeal Obamacare? They did another one just two weeks ago because they figured that they were a couple new representatives that hadn’t had a chance to vote against Obamacare. That's not a productive thing to do, people.
(All in all, Obama mentioned "Republicans" nine times, almost as often as he referred to Markey himself.)
The nearly 2,500-word speech harkens back to 2012, when the President was battling another private equity executive and Republican candidate from Massachusetts. At the same time, Obama's talk was pretty full-throated, emphasizing Gomez's political affiliation with Republicans by drawing attention to the party's intransigence in Washington, D.C. The question, of course, is whether it'll work — for Obama or Markey — at this undeniably fraught moment in the nation's capital. As the Associated Press points out, Obama's appearances at local races "create opportunities for Republicans eager to link their Democratic opponents to the Obama administration's recent troubles, including controversies involving the Internal Revenue Service and government intelligence-gathering."
It's equally uncertain whether Obama's anti-GOP campaign message, outside of the Washington pulpit, will make a difference in a race (and a state) where the Republican identity is uncommonly flexible. Gomez, Markey's GOP opponent, told National Review that, as a hardened SEAL who married a Peace Corps volunteer, he was uniquely qualified to engage Democrats when crafting policy. (Unlike many of his Republican peers, Gomez supports legalizing gay marriage and considers federal abortion policy to be settled law.) In the same vein, Gomez, who is 47 and has never serves in office, has tried to emphasize Markey's protracted tenure in Congress, to which Markey was first elected in 1976, over Markey's core political beliefs, as a way of painting himself as a vessel of new blood and fresh thinking in an increasingly gridlocked political system.
This strategy seems to be working: Gomez, though still behind Markey by about 7 points, has closed on the previously gaping daylight between him and Markey. Given Obama's prominence in D.C. — he is, after all, president — it's yet to be seen whether he lends Markey a sense of youthful vigor or further solidifies the narrative of political intransigence on which Gomez continues to campaign.