BOSTON (CBS) – The middle-aged man’s brow furrows as he recalls his ordeal. “I felt there was a scam going on and my retirement money was disappearing,” he says.

But never fear! It’s longtime incumbent Secretary of State Bill Galvin – described by a voice over in this Galvin campaign TV ad as “the most feared securities regulator” – to the rescue.

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“Bill Galvin investigated, found fraud, and got my money back,” says the relieved man.

If Galvin has his way, the upcoming September 4 primary will draw many older voters who, even if they weren’t directly helped by Galvin’s office, will see a familiar name and vote for it. But Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim, who is giving Galvin his toughest primary challenge in years, has a different voting-day vision.

“We are recognizing the need for progressive activist leaders who represent our values,” he says in one of his TV ads, as the screen fills with a message that is he “the only progressive choice for secretary of state.” Massachusetts, concludes Zakim, “must show people what progress looks like.”

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Zakim hopes younger voters will shun name recognition in favor of a fresh approach. But with low turnout likely on an election set for the day after Labor Day due to conflicts with religious holidays, both candidates are heeding a classic political maxim – if you can’t persuade them to vote for you, excite them to vote against your opponent.

Another Zakim ad intones: “Bill Galvin says he hates the word progressive and his record proves why,” as a list of Galvin votes social issues – most notably to “ban abortion” – scrolls by. “On September 4th we have a choice,” says the female voice over, “even if Bill Galvin doesn’t respect ours.”

And a Galvin attack ad verges on Trumpian when he tags his challenger with the nickname “no-show Zakim: for [failing] to vote in 15 elections, even skipping John Kerry for president and Deval Patrick for governor.” (Interesting side note: Galvin evokes partisanship here even though he lost the party convention endorsement fight.)

On one thing at least, these two agree – they both want to appear simpatico with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, even though she is staying neutral in their race.

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There’s other mud flying as well. But the scattershot nature of these campaigns reflects a mystery about the primary that other candidates are also wrestling with – no one’s quite sure who will bother to show up at the polls the day after a major holiday weekend.