Running Outside the Box

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  January 18, 2013


Congressman Ed Markey's announcement that he will run in the upcoming special election for US Senate was quickly followed by a choreographed show of institutional backing, from Vicki Kennedy, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and even John Kerry, holder of the soon-to-be-vacated seat Markey desires.

It's all designed to quickly anoint and rally around a strong Democratic nominee, who can turn immediately to campaigning and fundraising for the general election. The approach fell somewhat out of favor in Massachusetts after it failed spectacularly in the attempt to elect Tom Reilly to be governor in 2006. But it's back in vogue after the path-clearing for Elizabeth Warren led to equally spectacular success last year.

So far, it seems to be working. State Senator Ben Downing of Pittsfield, who had been exploring a US Senate campaign, bowed out on Friday. Congressman Michael Capuano, who will not announce a decision until after Kerry's confirmation as Secretary of State, is said to be leaning against running.

But there are still those don't care what the Democratic insiders want. They are the would-be Deval Patricks, the outside-the-box candidates who hope to rise from obscurity to elected office.

Three of them have just emerged, in rapid succession. One, Rabbi Jonah Pesner of Newton, is exploring a Senate campaign. The other two are looking at the 2014 governor's race: Donald Berwick of Newton and Joseph Avellone of Wellesley.

Interestingly, the three have at least one common thread: health-care reform.

But more importantly, they are also far enough removed from the insiders' networks that they might not care what the party wants.


It's hard to run against the party's chosen candidate. The usual lists of contributors — who are particularly important for launching a campaign, and who can convince others to donate — dry up, as Downing and others have discovered.

Likewise, the operatives who know the state suddenly don't want to work for you. The Massachusetts Democratic Party recently hired the consulting firm of Doug Rubin, the strategist for Patrick and Warren, making him unavailable to insurgents for the Senate race. Warren's top fundraisers have signed on with Markey.

Some rogue candidates can simply use their own wealth to buy their way around those problems, as Steve Pagliuca tried in his 2009 special Senate campaign. Others have their own circles outside the usual party fundraising lists — Alan Khazei raised a quick million in 2009 from his City Year contacts, and Pesner hopes to do the same through his national reform Judaism leadership.

Or you can do it Patrick's way: start very early, and build a grassroots campaign over time. That's why Berwick and Avellone are starting so early — exactly as early as Patrick did, when he opened a campaign account in January 2005, 22 months before being elected governor.


Ultimately though, the hopes of these types of candidates depends a lot on the strength of the party-anointed frontrunner.

It is not yet clear whether Markey — and potential gubernatorial party favorites such as Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray and Treasurer Steve Grossman — will turn out to be more like the Reilly fiasco of '06 or the Warren juggernaut of '12.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Local Politics, Ed Markey, Talking Politics,  More more >
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