The Bay State Battleground
By Keith B. Richburg
NEW YORK -- In past elections, Massachusetts, that bluest of blue states, has served mostly as a cash machine for Democratic presidential candidates. The state voted too late in the process to have much impact on the nomination, and was so reliably Democratic that it was never in play for the general election.
But this year, Massachusetts, voting on "Super Tuesday," Feb. 5, is relishing an unfamiliar role as a fiercely contested battleground in a nomination fight. The Massachusetts political establishment, including its traditionally deep-pocketed donors, are split between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. Most analysts are predicting a close fight that could go either way, with subplots that will test the power of the old Boston machine, the tug of longtime loyalties, the efficacy of the new governor's high-tech ground operation, and the enduring impact of the Kennedy mystique.
"It's going to be really tight," said Daniel B. Payne, a longtime media analyst for Democratic candidates.
On one side, the Clintons are well-liked in Massachusetts and enjoy a special affinity with the state. Bill and Hillary Clinton often vacationed at Martha's Vineyard, and retreated there during their low points, like after Bill Clinton's grand jury testimony during the Monica Lewinsky affair. Hillary Clinton is being supported by the Boston mayor, Thomas Menino, who has a city organization that can get out the votes, as well as the speaker of the state's house of representatives.
On the other side, Obama now has the support of the state's two U.S. senators, John Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy, as well as the early and enthusiastic backing of Gov. Deval Patrick, who worked in Bill Clinton's Justice Department.
Kennedy is a beloved figure in the state. But the state's senior senator and heir to the Camelot legacy has not faced a contested election since he defeated Mitt Romney for reelection in 1994, and there are questions as to whether the vaunted Kennedy organization has atrophied. For Obama, the real power of Kennedy's backing will be to turn out organized labor, analysts said. And for Kennedy, the contest in Massachusetts now becomes personal. "It would be embarrassing to Senator Kennedy if Senator Clinton won Massachusetts after he endorsed Obama," Payne said. "He's putting his prestige on the line."
Kerry is preoccupied with his own reelection bid this year. So the endorsement that really counts the most for Obama, in terms of a statewide ground operation, is that of Patrick, who is generally thought to have the state's most efficient Internet- and e-mail-based organization. "He has clearly the most sophisticated and modern get-out-the-vote effort in Massachusetts," said Michael Goldman, of the Government Insight Group, and a longtime political consultant in Massachusetts who is not working for any candidate this year.
Many have compared Obama's national campaign to the winning one Patrick put together in Massachusetts -- including its reliance on young people, its use of the internet, and the fact that Patrick is a black candidate who ran a racially transcendent campaign in a state with a relatively small black population. "I think what you're looking at here is that Patrick's organization looks like what the Obama campaign is trying to create," Payne said.
Goldman said he believes in the end the big-name endorsements do not matter much. "When it comes to the president, people are going to make up their own minds - polling has been telling us that forever," Goldman said. "People who love Kennedy are not leaving Hillary Clinton because he's with Obama."
Most recent polls saw Clinton holding about a 12-point lead in Massachusetts. But Obama backers are confident that with recent events, those numbers will shift. "With our two senators and governor backing Obama, and with the Kennedy mystique, it's a positive turn," said Charles Ogletree, a Harvard University law professor who has been strongly backing Obama. "In this state, you have people with divided loyalties," he said.
The Bay State's key fundraisers are among those divided. On Hillary Clinton's side is Steve Grossman, a businessman and former Democratic National Committee chairman who was one of Bill Clinton's main fundraisers. On the Obama side is Alan Solomont, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who was one of Bill Clinton's top moneymen going back to 1992.
One unknown factor could impact the voting Tuesday; if the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl on Sunday, the victory parade will be held Tuesday in Boston, Mayor Menino said this week.
Some elected officials, including the secretary of state, are concerned about the prospect of a throng of Patriots' fans crowding the streets at the same time election officials are predicting record turnout. John Kerry joked, "This could cause the worst gridlock since back when the Republicans controlled Congress."
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