Signatures a high hurdle in Mass. US Senate raceBy STEVE LeBLANC , Associated Press
Feb. 15, 2013 5:11 PM ET
BOSTON (AP) — For candidates considering running in Massachusetts' upcoming U.S. Senate special election, one number looms large: 10,000.
That's how many certified voter signatures are needed to secure a spot on the April 30 primary ballot.
The clock is ticking.
Candidates have less than two weeks to collect the signatures and deliver them to city and town clerks to be certified. The Feb. 27 deadline is the first significant hurdle in the race.
On the Republican side, the test could winnow down a field of contenders currently in a state of flux.
Two candidates — Norfolk state Rep. Daniel Winslow and Cohasset businessman and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez — have already jumped into the race, although Gomez has said he's not planning to speak publicly about his campaign until after the signature deadline passes.
Two other possible GOP candidates are waiting to officially declare, in part because of the signature hurdle.
Former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan on Thursday kicked off what he called "a grass-roots effort" to collect the signatures needed using volunteers instead of paid helpers.
Also Thursday, Republican businessman Sean Bielat filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to form the "Sean Bielat for Senate" committee. The campaign treasurer listed on the FEC filings said Bielat is running, but Bielat later said he is exploring a run.
While Sullivan has said he plans to rely on volunteers, Winslow and Gomez say they will use a mix of volunteers and paid signature gatherers. Winslow has already said he plans to donate $100,000 of his own money to jump-start his campaign.
The Republican quandary stems in part from former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown's decision to wait until Feb. 1 — the day John Kerry resigned from the Senate and was sworn in as the nation's new Secretary of State — to announce that he would not be a candidate.
The Brown announcement caught many Massachusetts Republicans off-guard and sparked a sometimes chaotic scramble to find other candidates for the special election.
On the Democratic side, two Massachusetts members of Congress — U.S. Reps. Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch — had already signaled their intention to run before Kerry's resignation and were poised to immediately begin collecting signatures as soon as nomination papers were made available Jan. 31.
Lynch and Markey also have hefty campaign war chests and existing political organizations to help gather the signatures.
Republican political consultant Jason Kauppi said that while Brown's announcement shocked the party faithful, it's not fair to blame him for giving Democrats a head start.
"I think perhaps the blame is less on Scott and more on the people who wanted to run," Kauppi said. "There was a way to organize without being disrespectful."
Kauppi said the race to collect signatures can be a critical first test of a candidate's management skills.
For instance, Republican Senate hopeful Jim Ogonowski had planned to challenge Kerry in 2008 but submitted just 9,970 signatures before the primary election deadline — 30 short of the 10,000 needed.
"You can't just send out people with clipboards and say 'get signatures' and hope they come back," Kauppi said. "It needs to be monitored closely. You don't want to get caught on the last day without enough."
Adding to the challenge is the requirement that Republicans collect signatures from Republican or independent voters, while Democratic candidates gather signatures from Democratic or independent voters.
Close to 53 percent of Massachusetts voters are independent voters, while nearly 36 percent are Democrats and another 11 percent are Republicans.
The special election takes place June 25.