With the election just two days away, the three candidates on the ballot Tuesday in the Fourth Middlesex Senate District have their work cut out for them to remind voters to go to the polls.
The single-race special election is in danger of becoming an afterthought. In Burlington, for example, local officials planning a Town Meeting session had to be reminded recently not to schedule it for Dec. 11. "The silence has been deafening on the race," said Michael Goldman, a Boston political consultant.
The district covers all of Arlington, Billerica, and Burlington, as well as most of Lexington and Woburn. The Democratic nominee, state Representative J. James Marzilli Jr. of Arlington, won a hotly contested four-way primary Nov. 13. He now faces Republican Brion M. Cangiamila, who had no primary opponent, and Thomas E. Fallon of the Constitution Party.
Marzilli holds an advantages in name recognition, funding, party affiliation, and address in a district that elected another Arlington Democrat, Robert A. Havern, to the Senate in each of the last nine elections. But he is not taking Tuesday for granted, he said.
"I've been engaged in a real grass-roots effort to mobilize voters," said Marzilli, who has a team of volunteers making phone calls and sending notes and e-mails to friends. "We're doing everything we can to remind voters that there's an election, and like every election it's important for them to vote."
The Democrats spent heavily in the primary - Marzilli raised and spent roughly $100,000 - but the three general-election campaigns have not engaged in a multimedia message blitz.
"That means there's not a lot of public attention being paid to this mid-December, holiday-season election. It's a real shame," Marzilli said. "The budget for Massachusetts is $27 billion, and almost every penny of it comes from the taxpayers of Massachusetts. The Legislature is spending your money, and you should exercise your Democratic right to take control of that by choosing who will represent you."
Marzilli, 49, is an Arlington native who has spent 17 years in the House. He is particularly interested in energy and climate change and was named Environmental Legislator of the Year by the Environmental League of Massachusetts in 2001. He is working on energy-reform legislation aimed at reducing consumption of fossil fuels and encouraging renewable energy. In the past, he led successful House efforts to increase the minimum wage, abolish Middlesex County government, and provide a so-called circuit breaker program in which the state refunds a portion of the local property tax bill for low-income seniors.
Cangiamila, 45, is a lifelong Billerica resident who served as a selectman from 1993 to 1999 and previously spent one term in the House, joining the Legislature the same year as Marzilli. He left in 1992 to run for Senate - at the urging of former governor William Weld, he said - in a nearby district. After he lost, he challenged Havern unsuccessfully in 1994, after the Senate district was redrawn to include Billerica.
"This district is tipped. It's very disproportionate," said Cangiamila, who is a mortgage lender and previously worked in the electronics field. "Arlington has controlled the entire electoral cycle in this district for 17 years now, and so I've just been sitting back, waiting for Bob Havern to step aside so I could run."
Cangiamila has been critical of Havern, who resigned to join a lobbying firm. His midterm departure triggered a primary and general election that could cost the towns in the district a combined $200,000-plus to stage. "I think it's wrong," said Cangiamila, who says he perceives a "moral vacuum" on Beacon Hill.
Cangiamila and Marzilli disagree on a range of social and fiscal issues. Among other reasons, Cangiamila says he is running because he thinks the Legislature should have given voters a chance to weigh in on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, instead of rejecting it outright. He also wants to reduce taxes and eliminate the waste he said he observed as a legislator and during a stint as a state employee.
Cangiamila says his biography and beliefs - such as his opposition to in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants - make him a good fit for moderate, middle-class voters. After he lost his first Senate race, he moonlighted at Legal Sea Foods to pay his campaign debts, rather than solicit from supporters, he said.
Republicans, who hold five seats in the 40-member Senate, are excited about Cangiamila. "He is a fantastic candidate. He's a great person," said Rob Willington, executive director of the state Republican Party. "The more he's out on the campaign trail, the stronger his campaign has become."
But Democratic analysts say it's hard to conceive of anything but a Marzilli victory.
"I just don't see how a Republican wins that district," said Goldman, a longtime adviser to local, state, and national Democrats and who is friends with Marzilli but not affiliated with his campaign. "It would be larger than a miracle."
Meanwhile, Fallon, 41, is trying to convince voters to eschew both major parties. The former champion amateur boxer owns a local tanning salon and works with Caregiver Plus, which provides emergency response systems for the elderly. He said he has never run for office before, because "my back's never been up against the wall before."
Fallon said the Legislature's rejection of the marriage question prompted him to run. Generally, he said, he supports lower taxes, smaller government, and a movement away from the "moral-less and ethic-less" leadership he perceives on Beacon Hill.
He said he considers the Constitution Party - which draws on the Bible and calls for a government limited to the role spelled out in the Constitution - to be the party of the founding fathers.
"George Washington would endorse me, and I'm cool with that," Fallon said.
Eric Moskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.