Massachusetts Democrats Appear Poised to Avoid Party Division, Unlike The GOP

A Democratic split is unlikely, differing from the Republican Party, which is experiencing deep divisions.

Attorney General Maura Healey, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Mayor Marty Walsh. Photo by Sarah Fisher

Attorney General Maura Healey, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Mayor Marty Walsh. Photo by Sarah Fisher

If there was any remaining doubt about who the state’s Democratic establishment is backing tomorrow, it was put to rest on Monday when a who’s who of Democrats showed up at the Old South Meeting House for a Super Tuesday Eve rally for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Staffers from Mayor Marty Walsh’s office were buzzing everywhere at the event guiding press, overseeing sections, firing up the crowd, and more. On the first floor of the historic building, nearly every level of government in Massachusetts was present. Boston City Councilors were seated next to state senators and representatives to hear Senator Ed Markey and Congressman Mike Capuano extoll how great it will be when Clinton is president.

When Clinton finally arrived, she was introduce to her adoring fans by Attorney General Maura Healey and Walsh, two heavy-hitting state Democrats who have had their machines working for Clinton since before the New Hampshire primary.

This is a very different scene for Clinton as compared to the one she faced in 2008 when the state’s liberal establishment was strongly divided between her and then-Senator Barack Obama. Today, she has the backing of every boldface Democrat in the state (well, except for one in particular) and a healthy chunk of the grassroots . Still, that does not appear to have made the state a grand slam for her, as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has made Massachusetts one of his must-wins on Tuesday.

Clinton did not reference Sanders by name at the event, referring to him only as “my esteemed opponent” during a portion of her stump speech that focused on gun control. The crowd’s energy appeared to be coaxed out of it by enthusiastic staffers instead of a response to Clinton’s speech. But her tone toward Sanders was indicative of one of the major difference between Republicans and Democrats this cycle. Clinton and Sanders, as well as their surrogates in Massachusetts, have not attacked each other with anywhere near the same level of vitriol as their Republican counterparts.

At a sweaty Super Tuesday eve campaign rally at Milton High School, Sanders removed his jacket and loosened his tie while speaking. The sweaty crowd of 3,600 jammed into the school’s humid gymnasium went bananas. The crowd was composed not of local officials with titles, but average people with regular jobs. If there were any officials of note in the building, they were not on display for the TV cameras to see. The event had a more DIY feel to it than the earlier Clinton event at the Old South Meeting House.

Sanders does not have the luxury of being a fruntrunner at this stage in the game, so he has to go on the attack and mention Clinton directly. When he did go after her, it was for very specific past positions Clinton has held, like her initial support for the Iraq War and the Defense of Marriage Act. The crowd booed loudly when Sanders mentioned these skeletons in her closet, as well as her current ties to the corporate world.

Conversations with several Clinton and Sanders supporters and operatives on Monday revealed a political party that is divided along strategic, not ideological lines. The base of the party appears poised to come together after the primary in a way that their Republican counterparts do not. In addition to fighting over their party’s presidential nominee, state Republicans are engaged in an escalating fight over the party’s state committee membership. Conservative Republicans have launched their own campaign challenging the effort of Gov. Charlie Baker to reshape the party so it is more in his moderate image.

“The Democratic Party is entirely different from Republicans. We have two strong candidates, who share common goals, just have different ways to get there. I think in 2008 it was far more divisive and intense than it is now. A lot of what you are seeing now is very different. The candidates are warm to each other, they don’t criticize each other in nasty personal ways the Republicans are in terms of sizes of hands or drinking water or calling each other scum,” said Jamie Chisolm, a local Democratic operative.

Chisolm said that the Democrats must go through these squabbles, but in the end they make the party stronger.

State Senator Mark Pacheco said Democrats agree on the core issues, but acknowledged there are some differences of style and strategy between Clinton and Sanders. “People may like one person over another person, but the underlying values that we care about, I think, have been pretty consistent over the years and remain so,” said Pacheco.

Democratic activist Sally Johnson, 52, of Cambridge, said she thinks the party will coalesce around Clinton as soon as she locks up the nomination.

“The animus is not there. I believe there is a very small percentage of hardcore folks who might dig in their heels and not turn blue in the end, but I believe the vast majority of Bernie supporters will come around,” said Johnson.

The vast majority of Bernie supporters in Milton told Boston that they will come around to Clinton in the fall because the Republican alternatives are so frightening to them. For many, fear is a great motivator.

“I don’t think the Democrats will break in half because they’re upstanding and decent people. The Democratic Party is still a together operating organization. The Republican Party is like a party where the grown ups left and the kids got into the liquor cabinet,” said Doug Melcher, 55, of Boston.

Wearing a Sanders button while sitting on one of the bleachers in the gym, Lee Crews, 55, of Sherborn, reflected on the Sanders campaign and the horrifying tone of the Republican primary. Crews said while the Democratic party may be fighting internally right now, it will eventually come together like it usually does after a primary.

“I would be shocked if that didn’t happen. It seems very clear to me from everything I’ve seen and the conversations I have had. I would vote for her even though I am not entirely comfortable doing that. I prefer her far and away over any of the Republicans,” said Crews.

Megan Connolly, 21, of Dedham said she was very excited about voting for Sanders in her first presidential election but will definitely vote for Clinton in November if she is the nominee.

“Anyone is better than Trump, obviously,” said Connolly.