Massachusetts Senate Race: National Stakes, Worries for Both Sides

"The takeaway is: We like to win elections. We don't take anything for granted," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, who, herself, has made one trip to Massachusetts and has another on tap before the election. "The campaign and the candidate who ignores and lacks respect for the voters loses elections."

Markey has been eager to make the stakes national, casting Gomez as a vote for Mitch McConnell and the GOP agenda. The old Obama campaign apparatus is mobilizing on Markey's behalf with manpower and money in a race Wasserman Schultz said allows Democrats to run the kind of effort they did in 2012 "in microcosm."

Underscoring the stakes, President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden all have made recent appearances for their longtime ally.

But the fact that such efforts appear necessary in deep-blue Massachusetts has some Democrats more worried than ever about the 2014 landscape. Democrats will be defending 21 of the 35 Senate seats on the ballot next year, with Democratic-held seats in states including Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia, Arkansas and Louisiana posing particular challenges.

"I think Markey will win," said Jim Kessler, a senior vice president at the centrist Democratic group Third Way and a longtime Senate aide. "But this is a race in which you'd expect it to be easier. You would still bring the big guns in to be safe, but you wouldn't really feel like you needed them."

Kessler said he fears that voter anger at Congress will be felt primarily by Democrats next year. Democratic control of the White House and the Senate could leave the party playing a tough brand of defense in states without anywhere near the Democratic edge they enjoy in the Bay State.

"There was hope that after Obama got elected, more would get done in Washington," Kessler said. "I'm not sure if the anti-incumbency [sentiment] is a wave or a breeze."

Biden gave voice to Democrats' midterm concerns at a Markey fundraiser last week. He referenced the difficulties Democrats are likely to face in an election where the president won't be on the ballot.

"There's a big difference in this race: Barack Obama's not at the head of the ticket," the vice president said. "And that means those legions of African-Americans and Latinos are not automatically going to come out. No one has energized them like Barack Obama. But he's not on the ticket. So don't take this one for granted."

Priebus sees the big-name Democrats campaigning for Markey as a sign of Democrats' worry. The RNC is putting some of its post-election data and research projects to a test drive in the state.

The RNC chairman said he hopes the race sends a message that Republicans can compete -- and win -- in all corners of the country.

"It's pretty clear from looking at all the Democrats going into Massachusetts, they're pretty concerned," Priebus said. "Being active and competitive everywhere helps us in every state in the country."

It's that sentiment, plus Gomez's biography, that has some Republicans thinking the race could be winnable, if only Gomez could compete financially with Markey.

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