Massachusetts Republican candidates for office this November might be well-advised to legally change their names and appear on the ballot as “Someone Else,” “Another Option,” or “Available Alternative.” In that the party’s hopes seem to depend entirely upon an anti-incumbent wave, MassGOP plans to stand aside quietly while voters mark their ballots against the Democrats.
At least, that’s the impression one got from the Republican state convention this past weekend. By accident or design, the party has put together the blandest slate of statewide candidates imaginable, with a thoroughly milquetoast set of campaign themes.
The Republican candidates seem to be channeling the famous Dukakis sentiment: “This election isn’t about ideology, it’s about competence.” Gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker presents himself as a non-ideological bean-counting technocrat. He is so accustomed to his inability to arouse interest, he was visibly taken aback when the convention delegates participated in the call-and-response portion of his convention speech.
Such candidates often select bomb-throwing running-mates, but lieutenant-governor candidate Richard Tisei’s short convention address showed no sign that he will campaign as anything other than the dull moderate he has been as state senator.
Treasurer candidate Karyn Polito — who sports no discernible qualifications for the office she seeks — gave a speech seemingly designed to avoid revealing anything about herself or her beliefs. Auditor candidate Mary Connaughton highlighted her background in perhaps the world’s most eye-glazing profession — she is a certified public accountant — and hammered home her sleep-inducing slogan, “Professional, not political.” Bill Campbell, sacrificial-lamb candidate for secretary of state, left the convention as unknown as when he came in. (The party has no candidate for attorney general, graciously handing a damaged Martha Coakley a free pass to re-election.)
Meanwhile, the convention did its best to eliminate those with personality and positions. Notably not-bland gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos fell short of the delegate support required to get onto the primary ballot. A much-rumored conservative challenger to Tisei failed to materialize. And Tea Party favorite Kamal Jain barely squeezed through to the primary ballot against Connaughton.
Party conventions are usually the one place for strong partisan positions to be aired, but red meat had clearly been banned from the podium. These candidates, and other party leaders, spoke only of fiscal discipline, job creation, lowering taxes, and ending the Beacon Hill culture — and even those items were addressed only in the vaguest of terms.
In lieu of compelling positions and beliefs, candidates can focus on personal stories and accomplishments. But that, too, was missing at the convention. That’s primarily because, despite the anti–Beacon Hill mood, the state GOP has rallied around candidates who are political insiders themselves, not outsiders like the 1990 Bill Weld, 2002 Mitt Romney, or 2006 Deval Patrick, or even candidates like Tim Cahill and Tom Reilly in 2002, whose elected positions were out in the counties.
Veteran Beacon Hill lawmakers Tisei and Polito, for instance, may be immune from anti-insider voter sentiment, because everyone knows that Republicans are entirely irrelevant in the State House — but that means they can’t boast of their careers, either. And Baker’s only outside-the-government experience — running a health-insurance provider — is such a source of public shame that he made no mention of it at all in his convention speech.
Polling so far suggests that Baker is in a strong position, despite being virtually unknown to most voters in the state. Or perhaps it’s because he is a non-entity, in a race against Beacon Hill incumbents Patrick and Cahill. Maybe in 2010 it’s wise for Massachusetts Republicans to be as bland as possible.