So, conventional wisdom suggests that Wilkerson needs to make up those losses in JP and other areas that Chang-Díaz carried in 2006. Wilkerson, who “avoided Jamaica Plain like the plague” two years ago, in the words of one Democratic activist there, has been showing up at the Centre Street Dunkin’ Donuts on recent Friday mornings, shaking hands alongside criminal clerk and former city councilor Maura Hennigan. “She’s getting some very positive feedback,” says Hennigan.

“Senator Wilkerson has to come at us in our base,” says Chang-Díaz campaign manager Deborah Shaw. “Maybe not [to] win, but chip away.”

Several close observers of JP politics, however, doubt that Wilkerson can overcome a perception that she spends little time in the district, and pays little attention to those constituents — gay-rights issues notwithstanding. “You never, ever see her in Ward 19,” says one pol who lives there and has not taken sides in the race. “People don’t know who she is.”

If Wilkerson cannot whittle away at Chang-Díaz’s advantage in JP, observers suggest, she will need to boost turnout in black neighborhoods — and that may mean rallying them around one of their own, against the outsider. Chang-Díaz could be vulnerable to the label, given the paucity of African-Americans involved in her campaign: at a recent “young professionals” fundraiser in the South End, only two of the roughly 75 people in attendance, including staff, volunteers, and supporters, were black.

However, Chang-Díaz also has solid minority credentials: though her mother is white, her father is of mixed Hispanic and Asian ancestry. In fact, while Chang-Díaz may be trying to oust the state’s only black senator, she would in turn become the first Latina ever to serve in the State Senate.

To read the “Talking Politics” blog, go to David S. Bernstein can be reached

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