Democrats’ Sound And Fury

For most Massachusetts voters, the main effect of this weekend’s Democratic state convention is that over the next three months they will eventually come to recognize the name Don Berwick, but not the names Juliette Kayyem or Joe Avellone. The rest is mostly scraps of empty-calorie tidbits for political junkies to chew over.

It’s important to remember that the convention delegates are not representative of primary voters who will choose Democratic nominees in September. They’re not supposed to be: the process (for good or ill) is somewhat haphazardly designed to result in nominees at the intersection of acceptability to party leaders, party activists, funders, party members, and general-election voters. The convention — divided these days between leader-controlled blocs and progressive grassroots types — is one piece of that lengthy and contrived political contraption.

With that in mind, here’s what happened in the four contested open statewide races, and what I think it means going forward.

Governor

Steve Grossman 35%
Martha Coakley 23%
Donald Berwick 22%
Juliette Kayyem 12%
Joe Avellone 7%

Coakley then withdrew, allowing Grossman the official (and mostly meaningless) party endorsement. Kayyem and Avellone failed to reach 15%, so they’re out. (A moot but interesting question: might Kayyem might have made it on the second ballot had the rules not been changed?)

Berwick has now demonstrated that he can appeal to the most liberal 22 percent of an uber-liberal subset of Democratic enrollees, who are one-third of voters in arguably the most liberal state in the country. How he translates that into the 400,000 or so votes he’ll need to win the primary in less than 90 days — let alone the million he’ll need to beat Charlie Baker eight weeks later — remains a mystery to me. The theory apparently goes something like: “Bill de Blasio!” That’s the liberal who got elected mayor of New York last year. Perhaps. We’ll see.

If not, the Democrats will put forward one of two long-time, entrenched Beacon Hill Democratic insiders in their 60s. Charlie says thank you.

Odds are very good it will be Coakley. The Grossman campaign has long hoped, with dubious justification, that a convention victory would propel his candidacy toward a more even battle with Coakley. We’ll see, but I doubt that the next round of polls will show a significant narrowing of the yawning gap between the two; few outside Worcester’s DCU Center cared much about what Democratic diehards were doing in their odd and unknowable rituals. It also didn’t help that Grossman lost the expectations game, so the journalists were not surprised or impressed at the results.

Still, it’s true that more than three-quarters of Democratic activists spoke up to say that they don’t want Coakley as their nominee, and eventually she and they will probably need to make peace with each other if she’s going to become the next governor of the Commonwealth.

As I have posited since last year, there are four possible ways the 2014 gubernatorial election could play out: 1) Coakley screws it up early enough that a newcomer or underdog (like Kayyem) has a chance to emerge; 2) Coakley screws it up later in the primary, giving Grossman a chance to win the nomination; 3) Coakley screws it up after the primary, handing the governorship to Baker; or 4) Coakley doesn’t screw it up. As of today, it looks like we’ve eliminated outcome #1, and we wait to see on the other three.

Lieutenant Governor

Steve Kerrigan 37 %
Mike Lake 35%
Leland Cheung 16%
James DeRosa 10%

Kerrigan is the established inside player; Lake is the progressive activist who built and maintained a statewide organization from a 2010 Auditor bid; Cheung is the young Cantabridgian with some progressive following (and who is the only racial minority left running for any statewide office); and DeRosa is an interesting activist who we won’t get to learn more about for now.

My assumption is that, regardless of their opinion of Kerrigan, party leaders are going to have nightmares of how Lake and Cheung would play with swing voters — and of their piddling fundraising histories — and circle the wagons around Kerrigan.

Attorney General

Warren Tolman 51%
Maura Healey 48%

Response from the delegates in the hall to their speeches reinforced my opinion that Healey and Tolman are the two most compelling candidates running statewide this year, of any party in any race. It should be a terrific race, but Healey’s rapid assent in polls, fundraising, and now convention performance have essentially eliminated Tolman’s 24-year head start. (He was first elected a state representative in 1990.)

My own analysis is that Healey is your next Attorney General. But it won’t be without a terrific fight.

Treasurer

Deb Goldberg 38%
Tom Conroy 33%
Barry Finegold27%

Goldberg needed the win, to help convince activists and funders that she’s the frontrunner who they should get on board with. Conroy needed the strong showing, to convince everyone that he’s a serious competitor in this race. And Finegold gets to console himself with the fact that actually nobody is going to care about these results at all.

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  • la bibliotequetress

    TOLMAN! TOLMAN! TOLMAN!

    That is all.

    • grandmahannah

      Personally I support Maura Healey. True she is not of the establishment’s old boy network, but she has a compelling vision and an excellent record of RELEVANT experience to bring to this job.

      • Lisa

        Maura Healey will do well in the primary and essentially won at the convention too. Outcome was engineered by Mayor Walsh ordering the 300+ delegates on his slate to vote for Tolman.

  • David Sloane

    Primary voters are going to look for a candidate with a compelling story to tell, and they’ve been hearing Grossman and Coakley’s stories for a long time. They’re improving, as candidates, but, as state-gov veterans, they’re also very cautious.
    The article suggests that it doesn’t matter what Berwick does in the race, but activists and Democratic-primary voters (and the political press) have embraced idealistic outsiders like Deval Patrick and Elizabeth Warren before.
    It will be interesting to see whether or not Berwick gets the support of voters looking for someone who isn’t next-in-line to the corner office.

  • freddy2015

    Next time include McCormick in the discussion. He’s a legit force who’s support is growing by the day. 2014 is turning into a 3 way race, David!

  • Ryan

    I was impressed that Tom Conroy had such a strong showing. Especially considering the fundraising advantages of the other candidates in the race. Shows a great field effort on his part. If he can keep that up during the primary he may surprise people.

  • Bob

    At least one narrative should be that Grossman could have gone one of two ways: Either overwhelm and break 50% on the first ballot, or sacrifice for a two-female primary and get Kayyem on the ballot. The fact that he he did neither has to be a pretty substantial underperformance. Sadly.