Every Democrat running for governor can claim victory after last weekend’s party convention in Worcester. Deval Patrick won the endorsement by a landslide. Tom Reilly did better than anyone expected. And Chris Gabrieli nabbed a spot on the Democratic primary ballot, albeit by a whisker-thin margin.
RESPONSE HAZY, TRY AGAIN LATER: Who'll be the Democratic candidate for the Massachusetts governor's job?
The candidates can’t spend too much time celebrating, however. On September 19, somewhere in the neighborhood of 750,000 voters (including Dems and independents) will winnow the Democratic field from three to one — and the outcome’s going to hinge on how the following questions get answered over the next three months.
Can Deval Patrick overcome the L-word?
Patrick lovers know their guy didn’t win Worcester because liberals dominate Democratic conventions. No, Patrick won the convention because of his resonant call for a politics of hope, and because he’s leading a grassroots movement of unprecedented scope and intensity.
Conversely, Patrick haters know that Patrick lovers are a bunch of lefty lesbians and Volvo-driving trustafarians.
Having watched Patrick for a year and a half, I can confidently state that there’s more to Claim A than to Claim B. But if he lets Claim B fester, he’ll have a hard time winning in September, when voters will be focusing on which Democrat matches up best with Republican nominee Kerry Healey. Patrick’s challenge here is especially tough because, while he likes to talk about transcending ideology (“Less focused on right and left and more focused on right and wrong” is a favorite line), he hews to liberal orthodoxy on almost every issue. Support gay marriage? Check. The Nantucket Sound wind farm? Check. In-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants? Check. Against the income-tax rollback? Check — hell, he might even raise it!
To win in November, the Democrats need a nominee who can make inroads with the fiscally conservative suburban independents who fell for Mitt Romney last time around. Could Patrick pull this off? Maybe, if his considerable charisma neutralizes his liberalism. Even so, it wouldn’t hurt Patrick to have a Sister Souljah moment — something that shows independents and conservative Democrats that he’s not totally beholden to his party’s liberal wing. (One suggestion for the candidate: scold Jim McGovern for bashing Republicans the next time he introduces you. You guys could script the exchange beforehand.)
Has Tom Reilly made his last dumb mistake?
Back in February — after Tom Reilly mishandled the Southborough affair, and teamed with Marie St. Fleur for one day, and admitted that politics “is not my strong suit“ — it was hard to imagine his campaign surviving for another month. But Reilly actually managed to have a mistake-free spring, culminating in a nice showing in Worcester, where he won 27 percent of the delegates and delivered what may have been his best speech yet. Reilly’s recovery is especially intriguing because it doesn’t seem to have involved any big shake-ups in staffing or campaign structure. He just stopped screwing up.
So which Tom Reilly will show up over the next three months? No one knows. Maybe Reilly got all the gaffes out of his system last winter. Then again, maybe that period merely set the stage for a misstep so awkward, so jaw-droppingly bad, that “Pulling a Reilly” will become the worst insult in the Massachusetts political lexicon. Stay tuned.