It’s been a rough week for Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Stephen Lynch.
In the past seven days Lynch failed to secure a crucial union endorsement from the AFL-CIO, the state’s largest union, and he is receiving harsh criticism for being the only member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation not to sign onto a brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.
To say this isn’t how he planned the post-signature gathering part of his campaign would be an understatement.
Running against an establishment candidate — in this case, Democratic Congressman Ed Markey — is never easy. Doing it without the official backing of the union you have been a life-long member of is a body blow to a campaign that needs good news. Last Friday, after a year of coalescing behind Elizabeth Warren, the AFL-CIO took an official position of “no endorsement” in the Senate race to replace John Kerry.
The decision shows just how divided organized labor is in this election. Building trades, like the ironworkers, where Lynch is a past president, have overwhelmingly taken his side, but the progressive unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO has been leaning toward Markey.
Later that day, it was revealed that Lynch failed to sign on to the letter signed by the rest of the delegation urging the high court to overturn DOMA. Lynch, who says he never received the email, insists it was not a political decision. Oversight or not, the kerfuffle is not helping boost his popularity among the progressive wing of the party – the base of voters believed most likely to turn out for the Democratic primary on April 30th.
Also last week, two days before the AFL-CIO announced its decision and the DOMA news came to light, Lynch suffered a tragic personal setback with the sudden death of a close friend and adviser. Bill McDermott, a prominent attorney and one-time Boston elections commissioner, was struck and killed last Wednesday as he crossed L street in South Boston. The death of McDermott, who had a brilliant strategic mind and was widely considered to be the lawyer to call for Democrats locked in tight elections, leaves Lynch and his campaign working toward Election Day for the first time without the Congressman’s most trusted confidante.
In the abbreviated schedule of a special election, Lynch can’t afford to have any more weeks like the one he just had. Still, the congressman can’t be counted out. He is the consummate underdog with a history of winning special elections he wasn’t supposed to. (In 1995, he won a special election to the state senate. In 2001, he won another special election to represent Massachusetts’ 8th district in the House of Representatives, where he’s been ever since.)
Though he failed to get the AFL-CIO’s endorsement, the 44 unions who have endorsed his candidacy are fighting mad and ready to work harder than ever before. They see this election as “us against them.” The elite party establishment in D.C. trying to dictate the next senator of Massachusetts from afar, as the working class wing of the party continues to be pushed aside. It’s motivated constituency not to be taken lightly and neither is Stephen Lynch’s candidacy.
Editor’s note: Chris Keohan is a Democratic political operative who remains unaffiliated with either the Markey or Lynch campaigns.