Once considered sure Clinton country, the Massachusetts primary is now a shootout
On February 5, more than 20 states will vote in the presidential-nomination process, with roughly half the total delegates at stake. That single day is shaping up as the big showdown between New York senator Hillary Clinton and Illinois senator Barack Obama, as both vie to be the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer in the 2008 election. And Massachusetts, which holds its primary on that Tuesday, is among the biggest prizes.
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One phenomenon might complicate the Massachusetts Democratic primary on February 5, say political observers. According to anecdotal evidence, they say, large numbers of registered Democrats in the state re-registered as unenrolled before this past week’s voter-registration deadline.
The reason? In Massachusetts’s semi-open primaries, unenrolled voters may vote in the Republican primary, but registered Democrats may not, and — sources speculate — many Massachusetts Democrats want to actively help stop Mitt Romney’s presidential dreams by voting against him in his home state.
These Democrats, and many people already unenrolled and eligible to vote in either primary, would probably be happy with any of the top Democratic candidates. So they may leave that decision to others, while taking one last opportunity to vote against their former governor.
Thanks to its heavy Democratic leanings, Massachusetts is the fifth-richest delegate prize on Super Tuesday for that party’s candidates, with a total of 121 — 93 of whom will be chosen by the voters that day. (The others are un-pledged “superdelegates.”)
And given Clinton’s home-field advantage in New York and New Jersey, and Obama’s in Illinois, Massachusetts can be viewed as second only to California among February 5 battleground states for the Democratic contenders.
That’s why, even though things have been quiet here so far, both camps tell the Phoenix that Massachusetts is a “tier one” Super Tuesday state, meaning it will get a full complement of staff and resources. Neither side will tip their hand about advertising, personal visits from the candidates, or other specific strategies yet, but you can certainly expect to start seeing yard signs, receiving mailers, and getting phone calls as the primary approaches.
The state is supposed to be locked down tight for Clinton; local political observers say she’s a heavy favorite to win. The former first couple is enormously popular here, both among the rank-and-file Democrats who still pine for the Golden ’90s, and among the elite FOBs (Friends of Bill) who have spent many a summer afternoon sipping chardonnay with the Clintons on Martha’s Vineyard.
But there is something strangely familiar about the situation. Almost the entire state’s Democratic establishment is on one side. Polls have long shown Clinton well ahead of her competition, including a recent State House News poll showing Clinton leading Obama 37 percent to 25 percent, and a WBZ/SurveyUSA poll showing an even wider margin, with Clinton ahead 56 to 23.
Running against this establishment candidate is a relative unknown, a black man touting a message of hope and change, calling on young idealists to rise up in a grassroots effort.
Nobody around here forgets that Deval Patrick swiped the gubernatorial nomination from the establishment-backed Tom Reilly. And given the stakes, Obama can hardly afford to lose the Bay State. As a result, few are discounting the possibility of Obama snatching Massachusetts from the Clinton machine.
Establishment vs. unknown
The cracks in the Clinton Massachusetts support began to show early. A year ago, the Clintons’ close friend — and ardent Reilly supporter in ’06 — Alan Solomont chose to raise money for Obama. In those early days of the campaign, Obama was also getting huge financial support from his former Harvard Law School alumni and other progressive donors in the state. So much so that, amazingly, to this point, Obama has out-raised Clinton in Massachusetts.
But endorsements, particularly from elected officials and party organizers, were slow in coming for the challenger. Bill Delahunt is the only one of the state’s 10 congressmen (all Democrats) to endorse him.
More recently, US Senator John Kerry also endorsed Obama — but it does not appear that Kerry intends to lend any concrete assistance to the campaign. The biggest thing Kerry could help Obama with, insiders agree, is the use of the senator’s legendary e-mail list. But sources suggest that Kerry has not, and will not, offer it up to Obama. Nor has he loaned staffers to the Obama effort, and he is unlikely even to appear at any Obama rallies in Massachusetts. After all, Kerry’s got his own re-election this November to worry about.
But it was this past fall’s endorsement from Governor Deval Patrick that turned heads — and got people wondering whether Patrick could do for Obama what he did for himself a year earlier.
Patrick’s endorsement has not stopped officeholders across the state from flocking to the Clinton cause — and in many cases, doing far more than lending their name. Nearly two-thirds of the state’s Democratic senators, and half its state representatives, have endorsed Clinton, including Speaker Sal DiMasi and Senate President Therese Murray. So have Congressmen Richard Neal, Jim McGovern, Barney Frank, and Stephen Lynch. Boston mayor Tom Menino is said to be putting much of his machinery to work for Clinton. State senator Karen Spilka, state rep Ruth Balser, and others are actively organizing for Clinton.