BOSTON (AP) — President Barack Obama arrived Wednesday in Boston to stump for Democrat Edward Markey, hoping to give the veteran congressman the edge over Republican Gabriel Gomez in the state's special election for the U.S. Senate.
Obama told thousands of cheering supporters at a rally in the city's Roxbury neighborhood that he needs Markey in the Senate.
"The history of senators from Massachusetts is they fight for people," Obama said. "They fight for working people. They fight for working families. They fight for future generation. They're not scared of the special interests. They're not scared of the big money in politics. They know who sent them.
"Nobody is better suited to carry on that legacy than Ed Markey."
Obama said Markey would be a key ally on critical issues including gun control, health care and helping rebuild a thriving middle class.
"He's been steady. He's been constant," Obama said. "That's the kind of leader we need in the Senate right now."
On his way to the rally Obama and Markey made a brief stop in the city's South End neighborhood, where they visited a sandwich shop to chat with lunchtime patrons and workers. Obama said Markey "has been fighting for Massachusetts for a very long time."
The president was greeted by Markey, Gov. Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino after Air Force One landed late Wednesday morning at Logan Airport.
Markey introduced the president at the rally and vowed to campaign across the state right up until the election.
"There is a lot at stake," Markey told the crowd. "My opponent says he is a new kind of Republican, but he backs the oldest, stalest Republican ideas from the past."
Gomez, a businessman and former Navy SEAL, also campaigned Wednesday. He was scheduled to participate in a technology round-table in Waltham before meeting with veterans in Chelsea.
Obama's visit comes a day after Gomez and Markey squared off in a debate in Springfield and sparred on topics including tax policy, the minimum wage and the National Security Agency's surveillance programs of Americans' phone and Internet records.
Gomez said after the debate that he'd sent a letter to the president, welcoming him to Massachusetts.
"I'm honored that he's coming here because of me and I feel that, obviously, Congressman Markey is running scared, and he's bringing in the rest of his D.C. team," said Gomez.
"I have a lot of respect for the president. My letter says, 'Welcome to Boston, I want to work with you when I get down there,'" Gomez added.
Markey dismissed any notion that he was worried about recent polls that pointed to a tightening race, and said his opponent had brought some Republican heavyweights into Boston, including Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
During his visit, according to White House officials, Obama also met privately with the family of slain MIT Officer Sean Collier, who was shot to death while on duty three days after the Marathon bombings. Investigators believe the brothers suspected in the bombings also killed Collier.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino also addressed the rally, urging voters to send Markey to the Senate saying U.S. Sen. "Elizabeth Warren deserves a strong partner."
Obama, a Chicago Blackhawks fan, also said he'd refrain from commenting about the Stanley Cup finals against the Boston Bruins.
"I am not going to talk trash about the hockey game." Obama said at the rally. "I am not going to say anything about the outstanding qualities of the Blackhawks."
A Suffolk University poll released Monday shows Markey winning the backing of 48 percent of voters compared with 41 percent for Republican Gabriel Gomez as the special election heads into its final two weeks.
The poll of 500 voters had a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points and was conducted June 6-9. Markey's lead has narrowed compared with an earlier Suffolk poll, which found 52 percent favoring Markey and 35 percent backing Gomez.
Tuesday's debate was sponsored by a Springfield media consortium and took place in the studios of WGBY-TV.
Also Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden attended a joint fundraiser for Markey and the Massachusetts State Democratic Party in Washington hosted by former Vice President Al Gore and Vicki Kennedy. Markey's campaign would not say how much money it expected to raise.
The election to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the resignation of John Kerry is June 25.
Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Bob Salsberg contributed to this report.