Tim Schofield's two previous campaigns for public office seemed to prove that being the progressive darling of Brighton is not a winning political niche. Young liberal activists got enthused for Schofield's 2005 run for state representative, and again for his 2007 stab at a Boston City Council district seat. But the residents who actually voted selected the more traditional, lifelong neighborhood candidates Mike Moran and Mark Ciommo.
So it wasn't surprising that Schofield initially declined to enter the State Senate race to succeed Steve Tolman, who became president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO in October.
After all, if he couldn't win in narrower Brighton races, he shouldn't have much hope in a large district that includes parts of Cambridge, Watertown, and Belmont. And besides, according to conventional wisdom, his progressive Brighton base won't show up for the mid-December special-election primary (which will fill the seat, since no Republicans are running).
Yet, after saying no, Schofield changed his mind and jumped into the race. And some think he might actually win.
That's in large part because Boston pols have rallied around Schofield, giving him a foot in the door with Brighton's "neighborhood" voters. In addition to both Moran and Ciommo, Schofield has been endorsed by State Representative Kevin Honan of Allston, and at-large city councilors John Connolly (Schofield's law partner) and Ayanna Pressley, and district councilors Mike Ross and Matt O'Malley.
"I'm still running a very progressive campaign," Schofield says. But this time, "I'm able to run that kind of campaign, and have neighborhood support."
Of course, he still needs to actually win those neighborhood votes — and he'll also need to find votes elsewhere in the district, against serious competition.
And if he doesn't, he knows full well the unwritten law of Massachusetts politics: three strikes and you're out. If Schofield loses this one, he is unlikely to ever be able to round up supporters for another campaign.
On the plus side, Schofield has legitimate working-class credentials, if he can get people to look beyond the surface picture of the liberal, openly gay lawyer.
Schofield grew up in an Irish-Catholic, blue-collar household, where he was youngest of eight children. He was the first in the family to attend college, which he did on the GI Bill after enrolling in the Army.
And those neighborhood Brighton voters aren't as conservative as they once were. Moran and Ciommo are considerably more progressive than their predecessors, Brian Golden and Gerry McDermott (who now works for Republican US Senator Scott Brown).
So, the theory goes, those voters will go with the only available candidate from the Boston side of the river, helping Schofield dominate in the Boston part of the district, which includes Allston-Brighton and extends to Kenmore Square. (Beginning in 2012, the district will include more of the Fenway and Back Bay.)
He will add to that liberal votes in Cambridge, which has no home favorite in the race.
There are, however, three candidates splitting the Watertown and Belmont votes: Representative Will Brownsberger of Belmont, Representative Jon Hecht of Belmont, and Robert McCarthy the former president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, of Watertown.
People close to the campaigns expect roughly 10,000 to 14,000 votes to be cast on December 13. With four legitimate candidates, it could take as few as 3500 to win.