All year, Boston’s political observers have been watching for signs of an anti-Menino tipping point in the mayoral race. The thinking has been that sentiments could change rapidly if there is a sense in the city that momentum is building, and that a challenger could actually dethrone the 16-year incumbent from City Hall. People reluctant to publicly oppose Mayor Tom Menino might then come forward, offering endorsements of and contributions to said opponent. Menino’s support — thought by some to be wide but not deep — might then erode quickly.
It has not happened. And the last hope for such a swing may have died this past Sunday, when the Boston Globe published a poll putting Menino’s lead over challenger Michael Flaherty at a whopping 20 percentage points. That’s not going to entice any timid public officials and community leaders to take sides against the mayor in the final stretch.
Flaherty’s campaign claims the Globe poll is inaccurate, and provided the Phoenix with its own internal poll showing the lead at 10 points and narrowing. (Menino has not released any of his own polling, but people close to his campaign say that their data closely resembles the Globe’s results.) Regardless, it’s not a good sign for the challenger that, with less than two weeks to the November 3 mayoral election, the liveliest discussion is over the size of Menino’s lead.
Some local political observers say that Flaherty needs to take a big gamble and throw an attention-getting Hail Mary to shake up the race. But the Flaherty campaign doesn’t appear to be in panic mode. That lack of urgency showed in Monday’s debate — the last televised forum scheduled before the election. Flaherty was critical of the mayor, but didn’t score many points. A Globe analysis said that, while viewers “might have expected [Flaherty] to go on the attack,” he instead gave a “muted performance” which “failed to put Menino on the spot.”
Perhaps Flaherty has simply given up on winning, and is trying to lose with dignity. But his campaign insists that they need no knock-out punches — that contrary to popular perception, the race is within their grasp. They seem to believe that, with a strong, targeted closing argument, they can win over enough undecided and persuadable voters to make up the difference.
Can Flaherty piece together a majority of votes without going on the offensive? The preliminary election results might suggest that he can. Flaherty’s votes, when combined with those for Sam Yoon (who now wholeheartedly supports him) and Kevin McCrea (whose voters are likely to vote against Menino), came within about 1000 votes of Menino.
But the November vote will not be quite the same as the September vote. Some 30,000 more tallies are likely to be cast. In particular, there are two demographic groups — blacks and younger professionals — who are expected to show up in much higher numbers in November. They are likely going to make the difference leading up to the final two weeks.
Two things have been true of black Bostonians in recent years. First is that, compared with the rest of the city, they turn out in low numbers for primaries, but then show up for the general election. And second, they are stalwart supporters of Menino.