Can Sam Yoon win?

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  February 11, 2009

One might think that all of the anti-incumbent voters will rally behind whichever challenger survives the preliminary. But that might very easily not be the case.

Flaherty and Yoon draw very different groups of supporters, as is evident in geographic breakdowns of votes in the past two City Council elections. In 2007, 55 percent of voters gave one of their four at-large votes to Flaherty, and 50 percent gave one to Yoon. But in half of the city's 22 wards, the difference between them was more than 20 percentage points. Flaherty's strongholds of support — South Boston, Charlestown, and even parts of Yoon's home base of Dorchester — are dead zones for Yoon support.

Most of those Flaherty supporters, if asked to choose today, would probably vote Menino over Yoon.

By September, though, their support of Flaherty is likely to harden into real anti-Menino anger, as they listen to their candidate's criticisms of the mayor, and as the mayor's campaign attacks their hero.

People in Yoon's campaign believe that anybody who votes against Menino in the preliminary — regardless of who they vote for — will vote against Menino in November, no matter who the other name is on the ballot.

But it is equally likely that, in the run-up to the preliminary, the Flaherty and Yoon campaigns will turn on each other, as they fight for the one golden ticket available to the main event.

If that happens, Yoon could win that spot on the November ballot, but lose many of those Flaherty supporters at the same time.

7) BOSTONIANS MUST CARE ENOUGH TO VOTE This, above all, may be the most important key to a Yoon victory. If the voter turnout looks like it did in the 2005 or 2007 municipal elections, Yoon probably has no chance. If it looks like it did in the 2006 gubernatorial or 2008 presidential election, however, all bets are off.

In 2007, with no mayoral election and few contested Council races, fewer than 50,000 Bostonians cast ballots. In 2005, with a weakly contested mayoral challenge, close to 100,000 did.

But in 2006, with Patrick on the ballot, turnout soared to more than 150,000. And in 2008, for Obama, 236,000 came to the polls.

The area with the biggest turnout swing — that is, where voters are most likely to vote in big elections and not small ones — are some of Yoon's best pockets of support. They include Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Roxbury, and other parts of Dorchester.

Several political observers in the city put it bluntly: New Bostonians — including minorities and younger progressives — don't vote in city elections. Yoon, as the New Boston candidate, is dead meat if that holds true in 2009.

On the other hand, as a Yoon advisor argues, Yoon has the most to gain from an increase in turnout. If Bostonians get excited about this election, Yoon could be the man for the moment — and could be mayor of Boston a year from now.

To read the "Talking Politics" blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached at dbernstein@phx.com.

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