Who’s the Frontrunner in GOP Senate Race?
One candidate has name recognition, but experts say no one has separated himself from the field.
The window for the three Republicans in the special U.S. Senate election to make a name for themselves is a small one, with the April 30 primary just seven weeks away.
Political observers say there is no clear frontrunner in the field that includes state Rep. Dan Winslow (R-Norfolk), former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez. The situation could change quickly with strong fundraising, advertising and ground operations.
Frank Talty, co-director of the UMass-Lowell Center For Public Opinion, said Sullivan has a "slight advantage" because of his previous job, but not enough to pull away from Winslow and Gomez.
"He had received some media attention in that capacity some years ago," Talty said.
Patrick Griffin, a former GOP consultant and CEO of Manchester, N.H.-based Griffin York & Krause, said there is no front-runner. He said Winslow's recent victory in a Republican straw poll at Danversport Yacht Club in Danvers was not relevant to the outcome of this race.
"The straw poll doesn't mean anything," Griffin said. "Just ask Mitt Romney."
Talty said Winslow's win means "he is stronger than some people thought," but it doesn't change the race fundamentally at this point.
Winslow won 79 ballots in the straw poll, while Gomez garnered 59 votes and Sullivan received 55 votes, according to the Boston Globe.
"The biggest problem is no one knows who the hell they are," Griffin said. "The most interesting thing in this whole race was that (Democratic candidate and U.S. Congressman Edward) Markey wasn't supposed to be challenged.”
Griffin said the GOP is going from a "rock star" in former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown to "a third-string opening act" with the current field.
So what do the three candidates need to do to become the clear frontrunner?
"If they're smart, they'll run a ground game and get as many people out as possible," Griffin said.
Fundraising will be difficult for any of the GOP candidates given the short timeframe, Talty said.
"It's going to be a battle for who can raise the most money," said Talty, adding that going up with advertising statewide will also help determine who pulls away.
Sullivan and Winslow have deep connections that could benefit them in the race, Talty said. Sullivan served in Washington during the Bush years, while Winslow was Romney's legal counsel when he was governor and was "very friendly" with former Bush Chief of Staff Andrew Card.
Gomez is attractive as "a young, fresh face" in the state party, and Talty said all three "have a unique appeal."
It will be an uphill climb for any of the candidates to face Markey (D-Malden) or his challenger, U.S. Congressman Stephen Lynch (D-South Boston) in the special election June 25.
But Talty said there is reason for Republicans to be hopeful, since there are few other high-profile political races in the country over the next few months and GOP donors will be paying close attention to what happens with this contest. So, if one Republican separates himself from the field, he could get the formidable backing of the national GOP establishment.
Then all bets are off for the special election.
"Scott Brown was kind of where these guys are now a few years ago," Talty said. "He peaked at exactly the right time. Democrats should not take this one for granted."