Survivor: Worcester

By ADAM REILLY  |  May 30, 2006

“As Democrats, we have always been the Party of inclusion. We are the Party that defended the right to vote. We are the Party that pursues opportunity for all. We have always been the Party with the big umbrella.... We believe that to keep any of the democratic [sic] candidates off the ballot in September would be abandoning our cherished principles. We would be damaging the reputation of our Party heading into the November elections.”

Easy there, folks. Gabrieli may well turn out to be the strongest Democratic candidate. But it’s quite a stretch to cast him as a political martyr in waiting, with those who’d keep him off the ballot acting as political Bull Connors.

Let’s review, shall we? Chris, you’re a dauntingly wealthy political veteran who entered the race late, after Tom Reilly spurned you and picked another running mate. What’s more, the 15 percent rule was already in place when you made your decision. Whining (or letting your surrogates whine) about a situation in which you’ve freely placed yourself is self-indulgent, and it won’t win you any style points. Furthermore, everyone knows that Patrick’s candidacy started sputtering when you got in the race. If you’re going to ask his supporters to help you move on to the next round — where, to state the obvious, you’d try to squash Patrick like a bug — try making your case on the merits. Don’t play the victim card.

Finally, the way all this is playing out is riddled with pungent irony. Not too long ago, the Massachusetts Democratic Party was urging Democratic voters to unite early behind one candidate, thereby avoiding the sort of bitter internecine conflict that Shannon O’Brien endured in 2002 before losing to Mitt Romney in the general election. But now the party says it wants all three candidates — Reilly, Patrick, and Gabrieli — to have a spot on the primary ballot come September. “We’ve heard the same rumors that you’re hearing,” Mass Dems spokesperson Cyndi Roy said when I asked her about whispers that Gabrieli, and possibly Reilly, won’t survive Worcester. “We’re fairly confident that all three will, in fact, make the ballot. And we hope that all three of them do.”

Something doesn’t make sense here. “There’s a fundamental schizophrenia in the Democratic Party on this issue,” complains a third Democrat. “We establish a rule which is clearly designed to limit the number of candidates in the primary, on the thought that we tend to cannibalize ourselves, and the candidate who emerges is bloodied and broken while the Republican candidate’s been training and raising money. And then there’s a soft-hearted — and maybe even more important, a soft-headed — sense of, ‘Oh, just let Candidate X in the ball game. At least give them a chance.’ ”

That sounds about right. Which is why, for Massachusetts Democrats, it’s starting to look like 2002 all over again.

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Like John, like Chris?
As Chris Gabrieli struggles to reach the 15 percent mark at next month’s state Democratic convention, he can seek inspiration in the example of the redoubtable John Silber. The famously combative former BU president almost didn’t make it onto the party’s primary ballot in 1990, but he eventually captured the Democratic nomination and gave Republican Bill Weld a tough race. If Silber hadn’t snapped at newscaster Natalie Jacobson during an infamous interview, he might actually have won.
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