The Washington Times - May 3, 2013, 07:13AM

First lady Michelle Obama will headline a fundraiser later this month at the Taj Boston for Rep. Ed Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, who is running in a special election against Republican businessman and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez to fill the U.S. Senate seat of Secretary of State John Kerry.

The high-profile boost could be needed, as early polling indicates the contest may not be the relatively smooth ride Democrats were hoping for.

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The Boston Globe reports that donors will be able to give up to $37,600 at the event, sponsored by a joint fundraising committee created by the Markey campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The high-profile appearance is one of the first indications that Democrats are determined not to let a repeat of January 2010 occur, when former Sen. Scott Brown defeated Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley. Many political watchers said it was a perfect storm for Mr. Brown: The special election was coupled with the cresting wave of the tea party, and Ms. Coakley ran a comparatively lackluster campaign, with few believing a Republican could win the U.S. Senate seat of the late Edward M. Kennedy.

That might be easier said than done, though, even in deep-blue Massachusetts; Mr. Markey leads 44 percent to 40 percent, according to a survey released Friday by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling.

The party breakdown for the poll is 41 percent Democrat, 17 percent Republican, and 42 percent independent/other; Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state by about a 3-to-1 margin. The survey of 1,539 likely voters, which has a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points, was conducted May 1-2.

Mr. Gomez is winning over the independent vote — vital in a state as heavily Democratic as Massachusetts — 47 percent to 31 percent.

“To put Gomez’s 16 point lead with independents in context though, our final poll in the 2010 special election found Scott Brown winning them by a 64/32 margin. So he still has a long way to go to replicate the formula that let Brown pull off that upset,” PPP Director Tom Jensen wrote in analysis accompanying the poll. “Markey is the favorite, but it does look like this could be another closer than expected Massachusetts Senate special election.”

An automated Emerson College poll conducted the day after Tuesday’s primary elections shows Mr. Markey with a 42 percent to 36 percent lead (PPP’s survey was also conducted via automated phone calls).

The poll of 797 registered voters in Massachusetts has a party identification split of 43 percent Democrat, 15 percent Republican and 42 percent independent. The poll has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

The Globe also reports a Democratic fundraiser saying President Obama is likely to make an appearance on Mr. Markey’s behalf if called upon before the special election June 25. Mr. Obama traveled to Massachusetts for Ms. Coakley the Sunday before the January 2010 special election when many believed the handwriting was already on the wall in the race.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick appointed William “Mo” Cowan, his former chief of staff, to fill Mr. Kerry’s seat until the special election. Independent Richard Heos will also be on the ballot June 25.