Why Menino's Endorsement Might Not Matter

Sources reported Thursday that after months of coy silence, Mayor Tom Menino will endorse Elizabeth Warren for Senate on Friday, and though it’s news that’s already winning her national headlines, there are a couple reasons we might be exaggerating just how big a deal it is:

The machine matters: As the Globe‘s Andrew Ryan notes, Menino’s endorsement isn’t everything. What really matters is the depth of his endorsement, and whether he rallies his supporters to get out the vote for his candidates on election day. Ryan points out that Menino’s muscle doesn’t always follow his statement of support:

In October 1998, Menino grudgingly endorsed Democrat Scott Harshbarger’s bid for governor. Menino and Harshbarger clashed before the campaign, and the mayor had a close relationship with the acting governor at the time, Paul Cellucci, a Republican.

On Election Day 1998, Menino’s endorsement of Harshbarger proved largely hollow. His machine remained mostly idle, and Cellucci won.

Menino has famously waited a while to come out for Warren, but still, we can’t imagine Menino feels toward her like he did toward Harshbarger. There hasn’t been a public clash, and in fact, he’s praised her as having “great credentials.”

Related: the Coakley affair: The other reason people say that Menino’s endorsement is huge is that his lukewarm support for Martha Coakley is often cited as a cause for her upset loss in the special election. As WBZ’s Jon Keller says:

There was clearly not much juice behind that [endorsement] and that matters. A Democratic candidate running statewide has got to come roaring out of Boston with a huge vote advantage in order to propel them statewide.

But the special election might not be such a great example for comparing to this race because …

It’s a presidential election year: As the Globe‘s Ryan also notes, turnout might just not matter as much in an election year when people vote in much greater numbers. “[A] a surge of voters can double the ballots cast in Boston,” Ryan says, meaning Menino’s supporters have relatively less weight.

That said, every bit helps, especially when polls aren’t giving a clear picture of anyone in the lead. This is undoubtedly good news for Warren. It’s just a question of how good.