Backed into a corner
Consider the Reilly camp’s handling of the AG’s now-infamous call to Conte, which was first reported by the MetroWest Daily News on December 30 and became a bona fide Big Story five days later. To win the Democratic nomination over former Clinton-administration official Deval Patrick — and to win the general election, if he gets that far — Reilly needs to be able to control this kind of story. From the outset, though, the story seemed to be controlling the AG.
On January 4, Reilly struggled to explain the propriety of his actions on WGBH-TV’s Greater Boston, an appearance that was widely panned as unconvincing. Then came a January 5 press conference, called by Reilly after Healey and her boss, Governor Mitt Romney, accused the AG of trying to “hush up” the investigation. Reilly appeared overwhelmed; his voice was barely audible, and at one point he seemed close to tears. The AG also found himself denying a cover-up, thereby playing right into the Republicans’ hands. And the diminutive Reilly delivered his remarks while standing in front of a wall, with no podium to set him apart from the gaggle of journalists pressing toward him. He looked, literally, as if he’d been forced up against a wall.
Furthermore, Reilly and his handlers did more than their part to keep the story alive. During a January 8 TV interview, Healey accused Reilly of “managing to stifle and probably obstruct” a criminal investigation into whether the state’s social-host law had been violated prior to the Murphy girls’ deaths. Healey made these incendiary comments — which haven’t been borne out by the facts of the case — to CBS-4 political analyst Jon Keller, whose Sunday-morning broadcasts have a small though loyal viewership. And they might have been broadly ignored, if Reilly hadn’t shot back after a State House press conference on anti-gang legislation that he and Healey attended the following day. As a result, Healey’s charges found their way into the Globe and the Herald one day later.
Perhaps Reilly made the right call there, since his retort prompted Healey to backpedal. But it’s impossible to justify Reilly’s dubious decision not to confirm his conversation with Davis until January 10, five days after his original press conference. Reilly and his advisers may have deemed this exchange irrelevant. But by refusing to acknowledge Davis’s involvement for the better part of a week, Reilly only reinforced the notion that he had something to hide.
Truly an outsider?
These missteps would have been bad enough for any candidate. But here’s the problem: ever since Reilly began targeting the governor’s office, he’s been telling voters that he isn’t just any candidate.
The challenge for Democrats running for governor in Massachusetts is simple: a hefty share of voters think poorly of the Democrat-dominated legislature, which they see as a tax-happy bastion of patronage and corruption. Send a Republican to the corner office, the argument goes, and they’ll help keep the Democrats from running amok. Send a Democrat, meanwhile, and you’re taking your civic life in your hands. That’s what made Mitt Romney’s “Gang of Three” gambit so brilliant back in 2002: by linking Democratic candidate Shannon O’Brien to soon-to-be Senate president Robert Travaglini and then–House Speaker Tom Finneran, Romney catered to and inflamed this fear.