Clinton or Obama, Or Not

Well, how’s that for timing? On the same day that the Herald not so subtly raised the point that Massachusetts politicians are choosing up sides in the Democratic primary, John Kerry throws his weight behind Barack Obama (and kudos to all of you who made the “He must really want Hillary to win,” jokes—yes that’s sort of funny, no it’s not that original).

But as much as the Herald, and Kerry, might lead you to believe that there’s a line being drawn in the sand with every politician forced to step to one side, weeellllllll, not so much.

Shouldn’t we know politicians well enough by now to know that if there’s a line being drawn in the sand, a hefty portion of them will probably just talk their way out of the sandbox? Some would call it cowardly, some say it’s pragmatic (who likes getting punched anyway?), and others might wonder just how far you can take the line in the sand metaphor.

In any case, it’s a fairly safe bet that if they haven’t already endorsed someone, Massachusetts pols, big and little, will hold off on choosing sides until Super/Super Duper/Tsunami/Apocalypse Tuesday on February 5. Backing the wrong horse, for many, is just too big a risk.

U.S. Congressman James McGovern declared his support for Hillary Clinton back in March, and campaigned hard for her in Iowa and New Hampshire. The Democratic rep from Massachusetts’ third district says his longstanding friendship with Clinton convinced him that she was the right candidate. But considering that the Democratic hopefuls are all fairly similar on the issues, he said the choice could be less clear for his peers who don’t have a particularly strong relationship with any of the candidates.

“It’s a less ideological campaign than the previous ones,” he said over the phone from Washington today. “So I think there are a lot of people out there who say, you know, ‘I like them all.’ Given that reality, I’ll just wait and let the people decide.”

On the other hand, another problem could be having good relationships with too many of the candidates.

“Unfortunately when you endorse, you have to pick somebody, so that means somebody’s not going to be picked,” he said. “I think a lot of us have relationships with all the candidates. We’ve worked with them on past campaigns and past causes…For some it’s easier, or preferable, to stay neutral.”

To return to the sandbox analogy, the equivalent would be if it was two of your best friends throwing down. What would you do? Personally, I’d have peed my pants and run for cover underneath the slide. That’s the political equivalent of staying neutral.

As for politicians on the state level, there’s not a ton of incentive to jump at a candidate either. Gov. Deval Patrick is lined up behind Obama, and Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi and Senate President Therese Murray are already with Clinton.

Further complicating things, Massachusetts Democratic power [read: money] brokers Phil Johnston and Alan Solomont, as detailed in this very magazine’s June issue, are with Obama, and former DNC chairman Steve Grossman is with Clinton.

“If you’re a state rep and you’re a state senator and you want to make your leadership happy, you’re with Hillary,” one Beacon Hill insider told us.But the Governor is strongly for Obama. What if you were with Deval for governor?…Sometimes it’s better to just keep your head low and let it play out.”

There is, of course, also the issue that nobody really cares who state reps and senators endorse.

“Frankly, in this kind of a race endorsements by state officials don’t make much of a difference,”Democratic state rep Frank Hynes (who hasn’t chosen anybody yet, though his wife favors Obama) told us today.

“I was one of the few Massachusetts Democrats that endorsed Bill Clinton in 1992 before the election season began. Now, 99 percent of Massachusetts politicians were supporting Paul Tsongas. There was absolutely no adverse reaction to that. No one spoke to me critically about that. More importantly, I don’t think my endorsement influenced one person. I think the same is true today, 15, 16 years later.”

So there you have it: They don’t say anything, and we don’t pay attention. For once, harmony.