The state Senate seat made famous by new U.S. Sen. Scott Brown will finally have an occupant after today’s election.
Republican state Rep. Richard Ross of Wrentham and Needham physician Peter Smulowitz, a Democrat, are going head to head in a district that is split between liberal voters in the north and conservative voters in the south.
Polls close at 8 p.m. and results should be available some time after 9 p.m.
The race is being watch to determine whether Brown's US Senate victory earlier this year was a fluke or a harbinger of GOP gains in Massachusetts.
To win, Smulowitz needs to do well in Needham, the largest of the left-leaning communities in the district. But he angered some voters in his hometown during the primary, when he attacked his opponent, state Rep. Lida Harkins, also of Needham, for accepting contributions from disgraced House speakers she served under.
Harkins, a former majority whip, fought back angrily, accusing her rival of "gutter politics." She won Needham handily in the primary, but Smulowitz prevailed because he took every other town in the 12-community district.
Smulowitz, a 34-year-old emergency room physician, has focused on health care reform, which he says would help businesses, individuals, and the economy.
He has also said state government can support businesses by opening up access to credit through smaller, local banks, and providing tax incentives for growing industries like clean energy and information technology.
Smulowitz’s supporters are hoping his primary campaign exposure will give him an advantage over Ross, who ran unopposed in the first round. Smulowitz, a Needham Town Meeting member, has been touted for his status as a political newcomer with fresh ideas.
Ross, on the other hand, has portrayed himself as an independent voice on Beacon Hill, with the political experience that comes from holding office but without the negative associations that weighed down Harkins.
Ross, 55, has also campaigned on his experience as a small-business owner; he ran his family's funeral home for about 30 years. During the short campaign, he has emphasized strengthening the economy and creating jobs.
The two candidates differ on the casino bills that are before the state Legislature. Smulowitz said he would have voted against the House bill to expand legalized gambling that Ross recently supported.
The Senate's Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex District covers Millis, Needham, Norfolk, North Attleborough, Plainville, Sherborn, Wayland, and Wrentham, as well as parts of Attleboro, Franklin, Natick, and Wellesley.
Republican Party officials say that keeping the Senate seat in GOP hands is important as an antidote to the Democrats’ one-party rule on Beacon Hill, but Democrats are looking for a little payback.
"I wouldn't deny that it has some special significance," John Walsh, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, told the Associated Press.
Also today, Democrat Sal N. DiDomenico faces independent John R. Cesan in the race to replace state Sen. Anthony Galluccio. The Middlesex, Suffolk and Essex seat includes all or part of Everett, Somerville, Chelsea, Revere, Saugus, Boston and Cambridge.