Steve Grossman Leads the Wide-Open Democratic Caucuses

A little more than half of the delegates chosen this weekend are undecided, though.

Massachusetts Democratic caucuses are good places for local political celebrity-spotting. I dropped in on four of them on Saturday (Quincy, Lynn, Belmont, and Brookline) and saw one U.S. Senator, two members of Congress, two District Attorneys, and several state lawmakers—plus three candidates for governor, two for lieutenant governor, two for treasurer, and one for attorney general. Some of them I saw more than once.

Mostly, though, I saw regular party activists. They were out in pretty good numbers, although there was wide agreement that energy is not where it was in 2006 for the last open gubernatorial primary. Back then there was pent-up frustration at 16 years of Republican control of the state government (and all those jobs!); more immediate anger toward outgoing incumbent Willard Mitt Romney; and grassroots enthusiasm for obscure-no-longer Deval Patrick.

It’s hard for anyone, even in the campaigns, to get a clear idea of how many chosen delegates to the state convention are committed to voting for each candidate—there’s no official designation or anything like that. From my observations and discussions afterward with campaign insiders and others, I would say a little more than half of the delegates chosen this first weekend are uncommitted; of the rest, the candidates appear to rank in delegate count thusly:

1. Steve Grossman. Well organized, with delegate slates and enough other supporters to elect them at many caucuses. Having the support of lots and lots of elected officials and other party leaders helps Grossman a lot at this stage. On the other hand, he wasn’t exactly dominating in a Deval-esque manner, and it remains unclear how finishing a decent first at the convention alters the basic dynamic of the race, which has him far, far behind Coakley. But no doubt he won the weekend.

2. Martha Coakley. There remains a striking gap between the general Massachusetts Democrats’ view of this race—in which Coakley is virtually the nominee-in-waiting—and that of the party activists. There’s still some pure bitterness over the 2010 loss to Scott Brown, but what I’m getting now is more a desire to find something new—or at least not accept, quite yet, that she’s the one they’re going to get behind in the end. Regardless, she is showing some signs of a field operation, and appears to have done respectably well in the early caucuses.

3. Juliette Kayyem. Even with some home-field advantages in Cambridge and Arlington, Kayyem didn’t pick up the kind of numbers this weekend that would make her feel comfortable about getting the necessary 15 percent at the convention, but she got enough—very close to Coakley, possibly even slightly more—that the huge number of uncommitteds should hold enough to get her there. Her grey-shirted volunteers were out in good numbers (grey? really?), but in most places not the broader numbers to elect her slates. Put it this way: for her strategy of getting onto the ballot and then breaking out, the weekend was a success. For anyone hoping she would break out at the convention, Deval-like, not so much.

4. Don Berwick. Despite a sense of momentum heading into the caucuses, the weekend seemed like a disappointment for the liberal stalwart. He had a presence pretty much everywhere, and seems to have done better outside the immediate Boston area, including the Cape. But the idea of a growing, powerful grassroots movement did not seem to manifest itself. Nevertheless, Berwick maintains a strong chance of getting his 15 percent by the convention, since uncommitted Democratic activists include plenty of liberals looking for the furthest-left candidate to support.

5. Joe Avellone. Pretty much everybody—outside his own campaign—thought the weekend was a disaster for Avellone. Perhaps they just missed something. And perhaps his fortunes will improve as towns in Central and Western Massachusetts hold more of their caucuses in coming weeks.