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.
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 of Representatives in 1976.
Markey defeated Gomez by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent. His victory does not change the balance of power in the Senate since Gov. Deval Patrick had appointed a Democrat to fill the seat for several months until the special election. There are currently 52 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the majority in the 100-seat Senate.
Tuesday's contest served as a reminder that President Barack Obama has vowed to play a more aggressive political role for his party through next year's mid-term elections with huge stakes for his legacy and final-term agenda. Democrats face several competitive Senate contests in less-friendly terrain in 2014, when their grip on the Senate majority will be tested.
The White House, led by Obama himself, invested heavily in the Massachusetts' election, fueled largely by widespread fear of another Brown-like surprise.
"The people of Massachusetts can be proud that they have another strong leader fighting for them in the Senate, and people across the country will benefit from Ed's talent and integrity," Obama said in a statement Tuesday night.
Republicans claimed a moral victory of sorts, having forced Democrats to deploy their biggest political stars in an election in which Markey enjoyed significant advantages in Democrat-friendly Massachusetts. Markey's victory follows personal visits by Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and former President Bill Clinton.
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.
Gomez said he called Markey to congratulate him and wished him "nothing but the best." He said he'd waged the campaign with honor and integrity but was heavily outspent by Democrats in the five-month election.
"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.
Though Markey has a 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 in November.
Associated Press writer Steve Peoples contributed to this report.