Romney’s greatest hope — and potentially his biggest albatross — is the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary. As the governor of a bordering state, Romney has a natural advantage over the rest of the field. Unfortunately for him, that advantage means he absolutely, positively has to win the Granite State in order to be a credible candidate. And New Hampshire already has a favorite Republican son: Arizona senator John McCain, who whipped Bush in 2000 only to fade badly once the campaign turned to the South.
James Pindell, managing editor of PoliticsNH.com, likens the prospect of a McCain-Romney battle to Survivor: “One candidate will have to be booted off the island.”
On the Democratic side, Massachusetts senator John Kerry hasn’t stopped running since his narrow loss to Bush in November 2004. At this stage, though, the nomination appears to be New York senator Hillary Clinton’s for the taking — and it seems increasingly apparent that she’s taking. A cold-eyed observer may wonder how Hillary — perhaps the most divisive Democrat in the country — can win a single state that Kerry lost. But unless a dark horse such as Iowa governor Tom Vilsack or former Virginia governor Mark Warner can stop her, it looks as though we’re going to find out.
Whether the governor’s powers are exercised by Governor Romney, Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, or some combination of the two, Republican irrelevance will continue. Activists worry that Romney will veto much-needed legislation such as a bill that would set aside up to $25 million a year for crumbling cultural institutions (passed by both the House and the Senate) and one that would make it possible to purchase hypodermic needles without a prescription, a key anti-AIDS measure (passed by the House, now awaiting Senate approval). In both cases, though, it’s more than likely that the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature would easily override the governor’s veto.
The politics of same-sex marriage may play an outsize role in the governor’s race. Which is why Democrats ought to worry that their front-runner for the gubernatorial nomination, Attorney General Tom Reilly, is detested by many gay activists for his hostile maneuvers — pushing for civil unions in the teeth of a contrary decision by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, enforcing an ancient and obscure law to ban out-of-state same-sex couples from marrying here, and, more recently, approving an initiative petition for an anti-marriage constitutional amendment. (Two previous attorneys general, Scott Harshbarger and Jim Shannon, said he’d made the wrong call.)
Reilly’s Democratic opponent, former Clinton-administration official Deval Patrick, has made a favorable impression on the gay community. But though Patrick has stirred up some excitement in progressive circles, he remains a long shot.
All of which leaves the Republicans well positioned to win their fifth consecutive Bay State gubernatorial election. The untested Healey favors civil unions rather than gay marriage, which means her position isn’t all that different from Reilly’s. But she’s done little to anger gay activists, and there are hopes that she might prove more moderate with Romney out of the way. Businessman Christy Mihos, who might challenge Healey for the nomination, is a supporter of gay marriage.
In the end, same-sex marriage is probably not going to decide the gubernatorial election. But given the considerable appeal that the Republicans already have in terms of playing watchdog in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, it’s interesting that a progressive issue the Democrats ought to own could wind up cutting the other way.