PITTSFIELD -- He may not have the same name recognition as his opponent, but U.S. Rep. Stephen F. Lynch believes his working-class roots -- he spent 18 years as an ironworker before entering politics -- will serve him well in Western Massachusetts as he vies for the Democratic nomination in the special election for John Kerry's former U.S. Senate seat.
"The Senate has become somewhat dysfunctional," Lynch said. "I also think I bring a perspective to the Senate that's not there right now. I think having that experience of strapping on a pair of workboots, struggling to make a living, and living paycheck-to-paycheck would be a new experience for a U.S. Senator."
Lynch, who lives in South Boston, brought his campaign against fellow U.S. Rep. Edward Markey to the Berkshires for the first time on Monday. He joined state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, for breakfast at the Dalton Restaurant, then was interviewed by radio newsman Larry Kratka on WUPE-FM (95.9) in Pittsfield. He spent the afternoon attending events in Springfield and Holyoke.
The youngest person to ever serve as president of Boston Ironworkers Local 7, Lynch said he has "strong ties" to the labor community in the Berkshires. Local chapters of firefighters, mail carriers, postal clerks, mail handlers and building trade unions in Western Massachusetts are all supporting him, he said.
Outside of the labor movement, Lynch isn't as well known in the Berkshires as in other regions of the state, but he doesn't see that lack of recognition as a handicap.
"This is not Eastern Europe; it's Western Massachusetts," he said. "I don't think there's that big of a gap, personally. I mean, we speak the same language, and have the same priorities and interests. It's not a big stretch for me."
To appeal to voters in this part of the state, Lynch believes, "you have to champion the cause, the way you identify with every group."
"You've got to be a champion of Western Massachusetts if you want to get the support of the people here," he added. "That's on a whole array of issues that are both distinct and common to issues elsewhere in the state. I certainly think that economic development and job creation [in Western Massachusetts] are probably similar to a lot of areas like Haverhill, Fall River, Worcester, and parts of Springfield."
Lynch and Markey, who is from Malden, will square off in the Democratic primary on April 30. The special general election is scheduled for June 25.
The Democratic Senate Committee has backed Markey.
"The Democratic Senate Committee was trying to just pick someone and save us the trouble," Lynch said. "Unfortunately, I gummed that up a little bit."
A poll released Friday by WBUR showed Markey leading Lynch 38 percent to 31 percent, thanks to a wide advantage in support by registered Democrats. But among unenrolled voters -- who can participate in either party's primary -- the poll found Lynch ahead of Markey, 38 percent to 34 percent.
"It's key to anybody's campaign really," Lynch said, referring to the impact unenrolled voters will have on the race. "You've probably got 56 percent [of the state's registered voters] unenrolled.
"The key is to get people to come out to vote," he said. "They're predicting a 15- to 17-percent turnout."
Lynch said he's aware that voters may have election fatigue with the primary coming so close to last year's grueling Senate race between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren.
Because elections are expensive to hold, some state communities have been considering moving the date of their annual town meetings to state primary day.
"I've heard that going around," Lynch said. "That would be great if we could do that. I know there are a few other races for state senate that are also occurring. That will help us consolidate a little bit."