BOSTON (AP) — Even before the explosions, polling suggested that Massachusetts voters weren't excited about the looming special election to replace former U.S. Sen. John Kerry.
But in the days after bombs ripped through the Boston Marathon's crowded streets, politics were all but forgotten as authorities launched an unprecedented manhunt and a region grappled with terror. It didn't matter that competitive primary contests were 15 days away; everything was put on hold.
"There are things that are more important than campaigning and that horrific event was clearly one of them," said U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, who is competing against U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch for the Democratic nomination to replace Kerry, now the secretary of state.
After suspending political activities for roughly a week, the candidates have been forced to walk a delicate balance as they engage voters ahead of Tuesday's Republican and Democratic primaries. They have largely avoided the site of the attack out of sensitivity for victims, but some have tweaked campaign advertising to address the bombing, highlighted their national security credentials and tried to use the sudden focus on terrorism to shift the direction of the race.
"It completely changed the landscape," Lynch aide Scott Ferson said of the bombing.
Indeed, a campaign once dominated by debates about the environment, health care and women's rights has become more focused on enemy combatants, Miranda rights and counterterrorism agencies. Some candidates welcomed the shift.
On the Democratic side, Lynch has seized on national security in recent days to attack Markey, thought to be the front-runner. One of the most memorable moments in last week's Democratic debate, just a week after the bombing, focused on support for federal security efforts
"Unlike my colleague Mr. Markey, I've actually voted for the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bills," Lynch charged.
Markey responded: "He's taking a page right out of the Karl Rove swift boat playbook, and it's very sad, especially just one week after what just happened in Boston, Cambridge and Watertown."
Through Tuesday's primary election, Markey outspent Lynch on television advertising $1.7 million to $1.2 million, according to advertising figures obtained by The Associated Press. But only Lynch focused on the bombings in a television ad that blanketed the state last week, while Markey focused on traditional Democratic priorities such as women's reproductive rights.
"We hold in our hearts those we lost, but we will get through this together and work toward a brighter day," Lynch says in the campaign ad.
But Lynch was forced to distance himself last week from a so-called robo-call made on his behalf by the leader of an ironworkers' union, who mentions the bombings while encouraging voters to support someone who "understands the day-to-day problems facing working families." It was an awkward moment for the Lynch campaign, which called on the group to stop the calls.
But it's unclear how many people were paying attention.