BOSTON — Longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Edward Markey defeated Republican political newcomer Gabriel Gomez in a special election on Tuesday for the state’s U.S. Senate seat long held by John Kerry, a race that failed to draw the attention that the state’s 2010 special Senate election did.
Markey, 66, won the early backing of Kerry and much of the state’s Democratic political establishment, which was set on avoiding a repeat of the stunning loss it suffered three years ago, when Republican state Sen. Scott Brown upset Democratic state Attorney General Martha Coakley in the election to replace the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Gomez, a 47-year-old businessman and former Navy SEAL, positioned himself as a moderate and Washington outsider who would challenge partisan gridlock, contrasting himself with Markey, who was first elected to the U.S. House in 1976.
With almost all precincts reporting late Tuesday, Markey had 55 percent, or about 629,000 votes, and Gomez had 45 percent, or about 513,000 votes.
Markey, who declared victory two hours after the polls closed, ticked off a slew of legislative priorities. He said he wanted to help spark a “green energy revolution,” protect seniors, boost job growth in Massachusetts and ensure young people can attend college without shouldering enormous debt.
Markey, who has served in the state’s congressional delegation for 37 years, also emphasized his humble roots in Malden.
“Thanks to the opportunities this country gave me, this son of a milkman is going to serve the state of Massachusetts in the United States Senate,” he said.
He told voters he doesn’t take the Senate race win lightly.
“I go there to stand for you. To speak for you. To seek change that lifts up your families and your future,” he said.
Gomez said he wished Markey “nothing but the best.” He said he’d waged the campaign with honor and integrity but was heavily outspent by Democrats.
“Not every fight is a fair fight,” Gomez said in his concession speech. “Sometimes you face overpowering force. We were massively overspent. We went up against literally the whole national Democratic Party. And all its allies.”
Markey outspent Gomez throughout the race, and Republicans were unable to match a well-oiled Democratic field organization in an election that saw relatively light turnout in much of the heavily Democratic state.
Kerry left the Senate this year after being confirmed as U.S. secretary of state. Markey will fill out the remainder of Kerry’s term, which expires in January 2015, meaning that another Senate election will be held a year from November.
Despite Markey’s lengthy career in Congress, he will become the state’s junior senator to Elizabeth Warren, who has been in office less than six months after defeating Brown last November.
Markey led in pre-election polls but said Tuesday when he voted with his wife that there was no overconfidence in his organization. President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden visited Massachusetts over the final two weeks of the campaign to shore up support for him.
Obama congratulated Markey on his victory Tuesday and said he looked forward to working with him to strengthen the U.S. economy and protect the middle class.
“He’s earned a reputation as an effective, creative legislator, willing to partner with colleagues across the aisle to make progress on the issues that matter most,” Obama said in an emailed statement.
Gomez had said while voting Tuesday in Cohasset, where he lives with his wife and children, that the election was about choosing the future over the past and what he called Markey’s failure to take on the important issues.
In Cambridge, Lori Berenson, 51, said she voted for Markey mainly because she was skeptical of one of Gomez’s main campaign pitches: his request for just 17 months in office.
“He thinks in 17 months he’s going to accomplish what Markey hasn’t done in 37 years?” she said.
But David Wanders, 43, of Stoughton, said he voted for Gomez because he felt Markey had been in Washington too long.
“He’s a lifer,” said Wanders, an independent who voted for Obama in the last election. “I don’t think he lives here. He lives in Washington.”
Markey spent more than $8.6 million on the race through the end of the last reporting period June 5, compared with $2.3 million by Gomez, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Outside groups also poured about $6 million into the Markey-Gomez contest, in the absence of an agreement between the candidates akin to one that had kept most outside money out of last year’s Warren-Brown race.
Also on Tuesday’s ballot was Richard Heos, affiliated with the Twelve Visions Party.