Talking to Democrats recently, at the party's state convention and elsewhere, reveals a widespread hope that an independent Beacon Hill outsider will emerge out of the mist in the 2014 governor's race to challenge the expected Republican nominee, Charlie Baker.
What's interesting is that many of the people looking for an anti-establishment candidate are the Democratic establishmentarians who lined up against Deval Patrick in 2006.
Few want to say it on the record, for fear of offending the powerful pols considered most likely to run: Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, Attorney General Martha Coakley, Treasurer Steve Grossman, and US Congressman Michael Capuano.
But, much as they may like and admire those four A-Listers, many insiders and activists I've spoken with in recent weeks see them as flawed. They worry that the quartet reek too much of insider-establishment politics — and Massachusetts voters have shunned such candidates for a generation.
That has an awful lot of Democrats scanning the horizon for their new Deval — the untainted outsider, the inspiring fresh face who can inject some hope and optimism into the race.
So far, there have been no sightings.
Former New Bedford mayor Scott Lang has said he might consider running but has made no moves. There are murmurs about US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, but her office's investigations have ticked off too many Democrats for that to seem plausible.
Sure, it's early. Even Patrick didn't start openly talking about his interest in the governor's race until after the November 2004 (non-gubernatorial) election, and he opened a campaign committee two months later.
"I wouldn't counsel anybody to be having the conversation beyond their family members at this point," says veteran Democratic consultant Larry Carpman, who joined the Patrick campaign as a consultant in February 2005. State Democrats, he points out, don't want to see posturing for 2014 while they're caught up in the Elizabeth Warren–Scott Brown US Senate race. "If someone tried to get any kind of public profile, it just wouldn't work, and it would be seen as out of sync."
Still, Carpman and others say that a less-known candidate would need to be ready to get started soon after November. That's when campaign pros, volunteers, and fundraisers will be looking for a new cause for their Warren-inspired enthusiasm.
Remember, it was three restless Kerry volunteers who started the Blue Mass Group progressive blog after his bid for president ended in mid November 2004. By early 2005, the site was fast becoming a central node for Patrick enthusiasts.
And, while Patrick may not have been making moves openly, he was ingratiating himself to important Democrats during the 2004 election — most notably Kerry.
Another consideration: if Barack Obama wins re-election and appoints Kerry as secretary of state, the special election for Kerry's Senate seat will consume all of Massachusetts's political oxygen, through roughly June 2013. By that time, multiple well-known, well-funded candidates may have jumped into the governor's race. For a grassroots candidate, this summer might be the best chance to get any attention before it's too late.
As noted above, several current office-holders are seen as positioning themselves for a potential gubernatorial run.