Republican Jeff Beatty spent his Friday night talking politics over cocktails in Fall River. Democrat Ed O'Reilly has been laying the groundwork for his campaign for more than a year.
And this week, Republican Jim Ogonowski plans to make 36 campaign stops from North Adams to Chatham in an effort to lift his campaign and his adrenaline: 30 of the stops are for coffee.
Six months before the primary, the candidates are all hoping to gain momentum for a Herculean task: unseating John F. Kerry from his US Senate seat.
"There is an extra challenge to going against an incumbent, but not when they haven't delivered," Ogonowski said yesterday in a phone interview. "You don't see him in Massachusetts. He's more interested in being a national figure than a representative of the people of Massachusetts."
Kerry, in his fourth six-year term, has not faced a serious challenge since Governor William F. Weld, a Republican, in 1996, and even fellow Democrats joke about Kerry's absence from Massachusetts. At the Saint Patrick's Day Breakfast last month, Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral compared him to Halley's Comet, appearing quickly every six years.
But lately his public appearances have seen a noticeable uptick. Over the past week, the junior senator was in Roxbury and Lawrence to talk about home foreclosures, and stopped by the opening ceremony for a Coast Guard command center. Tomorrow he is scheduled to be at a State House hearing on federal immigration raids in New England.
"The senator's served the state very well over the last four terms," said Roger Lau, who was brought on as campaign manager several weeks ago and said to expect "grass-roots, Iowa-style politics - talking to one voter at a time."
"From healthcare to the economy the Massachusetts delegation is at the forefront," he said, "and John Kerry is proud to be a part of that."
Still, few observers are predicting a close fight for the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee. Unseating an incumbent is rare, and Kerry's $9.9 million war chest dwarfs his opponents'.
What attention there has been has focused on a possible Kerry and Ogonowski matchup. But both candidates have challengers to overcome in the September primary before they could meet in November's general election.
O'Reilly, a Gloucester lawyer and former city councilor, voted for Kerry in the 2004 presidential race but is challenging the senator largely on the very issues that plagued Kerry during that quest.
O'Reilly says Kerry did not oppose the Iraq war strongly enough and that spending on the war has diverted money from other areas such as education. In a previous interview with the Globe, O'Reilly also contended that issues raised by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth reflected poorly on Kerry's character, although he said yesterday that after speaking with Kerry, he agreed to drop that issue.
O'Reilly would have to gain support from 15 percent of the delegates at the Massachusetts Democratic Party Convention in June to secure a spot on the ballot.
The Republicans have largely been holding their fire, saving their ammunition for Kerry.
"It's definitely an uphill fight, but it's a winnable fight," said Beatty, a military veteran from Harwich who ran unsuccessfully in 2006 against Representative William D. Delahunt. "We're not getting the representation that we deserve in the Commonwealth."
Beatty said yesterday that his campaign has raised more than $1 million, a large sum that will not be confirmed until campaign finance reports are filed this month.
Ogonowski, the brother of a pilot killed in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, lost the Fifth Congressional District race last fall to Democrat Niki Tsongas by 6 points in his political debut. But he received 45 percent of the vote and made the contest closer than expected in a heavily Democratic area.
The Dracut farmer and retired military officer ran as a populist reformer committed to challenging the status quo and cracking down on illegal immigration.
The candidates are doing whatever they can to distinguish themselves.
O'Reilly notes on his campaign website that he is a former commercial lobsterman.
Beatty has taken to driving around the state in The Beatty Mobile Headquarters, a giant used recreational vehicle plastered with his face, an American flag, and the text, "It's time to replace John Kerry with one of us!"
Ogonowski has a spoof ad on his website called "Mr. Ogonowski Goes to Washington," which shows him walking on Capitol Hill, pointing out the perks senators get - gym access, elevators, and trains for their exclusive use.
"John Kerry has been here for 24 years," Ogonowski says. "He's not going to change Washington; he represents the status quo. He is Washington, D.C."
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.