The special election for U.S. Senate may be over, but weary Massachusetts voters will get little reprieve from the seemingly endless cycle of campaigns as attention shifts immediately to other races looming large on the political frontier.
Voter turnout to decide the special U.S. Senate race between long-time Congressman Ed Markey and newcomer Republican Gabriel Gomez disappointed those who prefer to see robust participation in elected politics. Markey defeated Gomez by a comfortable 10-point margin, but with 99 percent of precincts reporting the turnout didn't even live up to Secretary of State William Galvin's dire prediction for a record low of 1.6 million votes for a statewide Senate race. Just over 1.16 million votes had been counted for a turnout of 27 percent.
While many factors have been cited as potential distractions in the run-up to Tuesday's election, election fatigue invariably makes the list after three statewide contests for U.S. Senate alone in the past three-and-a-half years.
"It could be a factor. I don't think it's the factor. But I think when people are enthusiastic and inspired and they know there's a lot on the line they'll do what it takes to get out and vote, but I don't think anyone will say this was the most enthusiastic campaign ever run," said Democratic consultant Mary Ann Marsh, of Dewey Square Group.
The next 16 months will provide little respite. While the barrage of television ads may cease for a period while candidates focus on grassroots organizing and fundraising - the early foundations of their campaigns - it won't be long before the mailers and commercials are back in circulation.
"If (voters) aren't used to special elections now, they'll never be. Going forward, 2014 is going to be a heck of an election, never mind that you have this election to do all over again," Marsh said.
That's because there will be at least 216 races across the state in 2014 when voters will elect a U.S. Senator, nine representatives to Congress, all six Constitutional officers, including a new governor, and all 200 state legislative seats will be up for grabs. And that's not counting what lies more immediately ahead.
On Wednesday, more attention will shift to the first Boston mayoral race in 20 years without Mayor Thomas Menino on the ballot as candidates scramble to position themselves throughout the summer for the runoff in September to whittle the field to the top two contenders.
Markey's election also officially tips off the start of the race to replace him in Congress with candidates already lining up to run for the seat in the Fifth Congressional district. Sen. Katherine Clark, Sen. Karen Spilka, Sen. William Brownsberger, Rep. Carl Sciortino and Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian have already taken steps to begin campaigns. Sciortino, of Medford, plans a formal announcement outside the State House on Wednesday.
Requiring yet another special election at a financial and emotional cost to the electorate, the general election for that Congressional race will take place in late November or early December, with a fall primary. And more dominos fall from there.
Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan told the News Service the candidacy of Sen. Clark, a Melrose Democrat whom he supports, has piqued the ambitions of those who might succeed Clark in the Senate, and even those eyeballing the seats of state representatives in the district who might try move to the Senate if Clark wins Markey's seat.
"I support her. I think she's going to be a very formidable candidate," said Dolan. He said, "There are people already discussing the possibility of running for a Massachusetts Senate race, and then possibly reps. I am not one of them, but there are people discussing this."
Dolan would not disclose which state representatives have been considering Clark's seat, but said "there aren't too many of them."
"I think people as a whole right now are electioned-out, but there is a strong, grassroots, Democratic base in those communities, particularly Melrose," Dolan said.
While the mayoral and Congressional elections may be the most near-term ballot contests for voters to settle, the end of the U.S. Senate campaign is also likely to spark the unofficial beginning of the 2014 race for governor. Gov. Deval Patrick long ago announced that he would not seek a third term, but many prospective candidates for the office have been biding their time to make a decision on whether to run.
While some like former Obama administration health official Donald Berwick and former Wellesley Selectman Joe Avellone have already declared their intention to run, others from both parties are waiting in the wings.
Treasurer Steven Grossman, widely considered a lock to enter the Democratic primary, has said he is leaning strongly toward running, but suggested earlier this year he would make no announcement until after the Senate election was decided so as not to distract from the race.
The July 13 annual Democratic Party Convention in Lowell is likely to attract many of the potential statewide candidates jockeying for support among delegates and core party organizers as they look to build momentum in what, for now, appears to be a wide open field for governor, lieutenant governor and other offices, depending on what people like Grossman and Galvin do next year. That gathering is just over two weeks away.
And then there's Markey, himself, who will be up for re-election in November 2014 when the remaining time on Secretary of State John Kerry's term expires.
"Markey can't stop campaigning, really. The question that comes out of tonight is what type of election does he buy. A primary? A Gomez rematch? Scott Brown? I don't know," Marsh said.
Marsh added that Markey will have work to do over the next 16 months to improve his favorability numbers to "ensure re-election rather than fighting for one."
Andy Metzger contributed reporting.