Southie's last stand

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  February 12, 2013

Southie didn't go as well for Brown this past November, splitting roughly even between Brown and Elizabeth Warren — but still stood out from the rest of the city, which went nearly three-to-one for the Democrat.

Now, with Brown opting out of the race, a new reality has emerged. The assumption is that either Lynch or Ed Markey would sail to victory in the general election. And in fact, all those lunch-bucket Brown voters are now likely to come vote in the Democratic primary, for the guy many in South Boston refer to as "our Lynchie."

Lynch is already picking up support from labor groups and some pols in his district. Just as important, he appears to have slowed the commitment of institutional support for Markey, who has the blessing of Washington Democrats and Kerry.

Sure, Lynch's positions — like those of his most die-hard Southie supporters — are to the right of the average Massachusetts Democrat. To the right, in fact, of the average Democrat in his own congressional district, no matter how many of the so-called "Southie diaspora" reside in towns like Dedham and Westwood.

Skeptics say Lynch has succeeded by virtue of high turnout rate among old, conservative Irish-Americans. And he was surely helped into Congress, in the 2001 special election, by Cheryl Jacques and Brian Joyce splitting the liberal vote.

But that easy conception of Lynch underestimates the appeal of a Southie candidate outside the neighborhood. Southie roots give pols like Lynch an automatic regular-guy aura that others have to work hard for. And it instills in them an appreciation for retail, hand-to-hand, eye-contact campaigning that serves them well wherever they stump.

All that said, Lynch has an uphill climb to win the Senate race. And many believe that his losing that high-profile campaign will only hasten what they say is inevitable — a serious, well-funded primary challenge from the left that knocks Lynch out of Congress.

Lynch easily dispatched a 2010 challenge from union activist Mac D'Alessandro, and one in 2006 from Phil Dunkelbarger. But those candidates met firm resistance from many of the Democratic establishment powers that Lynch is currently upsetting with his challenge to Markey. Progressives have wanted to knock off Southie's congressman for a long time, and they think they might have that opening now.

A Haitian St. Pat's?

It's not surprising that Hart's colleagues associate him so closely with South Boston, even though it represents barely a fifth of his district by population. After all, Hart took it over from Lynch, who succeeded the legendary William Bulger. The first Suffolk state senator traditionally hosts the St. Patrick's Day Breakfast, the great nexus of Southie Irish and political identity.

So it's no great surprise that South Boston representative Nick Collins — Hart's one-time chief of staff — is running in the special election.

But unlike when Hart won the seat in a 2002 special election without a Dorchester opponent, Collins is up against Forry, who represents far more of the district than he does.

Forry knows a bit about winning a traditionally Irish-American seat — she got to the house in 2005 in a special election to succeed Speaker Tom Finneran. Her husband, Reporter newspapers managing editor Bill Forry, comes from a well-connected Dorchester family.

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