This past spring, I put together a hierarchy of Massachusetts political endorsements. As we approach election day, I am republishing with some updates. One big caveat; No one endorsement is a game changer. Elizabeth Warren couldn’t save John Tierney, Dukakis couldn’t boost Mike Lake, and Mitt Romney couldn’t bring more Republicans into the Legislature in 2004. Candidates and conditions (statewide and national) matter.
The #Mapoli endorsement hierarchy in order of importance:
The Perfect Storm Endorsement: For Democrats, this is still either Deval Patrick or Elizabeth Warren. They bring a tested and successful grassroots organization and can put their national fundraising network on alert. Their nod is coveted: think of Warren’s endorsement of challenger Daniel Rivera over incumbent Mayor Willie Lantigua in Lawrence last year. Or Patrick’s endorsement of Warren on the eve of the Democratic Convention in 2012. Though Patrick’s glow has dimmed a bit as he enters the last few months of his final term but he still has the power of mobilizing his fellow Democrats and that may well be the key for his colleagues on the left locked in tight races.
The Boston Globe’s endorsement of Bill Weld over John Silber in 1990 fits here as well. The editorial in support of Weld helped him capture the liberal vote, and the Corner Office, that year. Watch for similar endorsements this year. Just yesterday, the New Bedford Standard Times endorsed Baker.
The Boston Mayoral Endorsement in two parts
- The Curley Gets it Done Endorsement: The Boston Mayor wields great power in the city and statewide. A meaningful endorsement by the state’s most prominent urban politician can greatly assist anyone from the statewide candidate to a ward politician. If the Mayor makes it clear he takes the endorsement personally, money and muscle can follow.
- The “I’m with the Democrat” Endorsement: This is when the Boston Mayor endorses a candidate but essential tells supporters, don’t get worked up over this. It’s the equivalent of endorsing with your mouth while crossing your fingers behind your back. Mayor Tom Menino’s “endorsement” of Scott Harshbarger in 1998 is a good example.
Sometimes Curley doesn’t get it done, however. Mayor Marty Walsh put his name behind Warren Tolman in the latter’s race for Attorney General and it mattered not at all as Tolman suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Maura Healey. This is a timely reminder that a candidate can run an excellent campaign, as I think Tolman largely did, and still lose. Healey didn’t have the money, name recognition, or endorsements, and still won. Walsh and just about every other important figure lined up behind Tolman and still Healey won. Candidates matter.
Delivering Cushman’s Bread (Ask Prof. Cunningham) Endorsement: Two factors: when a candidate is endorsed by those clearly identified with an active constituency and when the endorser is willing to roll up the sleeves and go to work for the newly endorsed. Think John Barros, Felix Arroyo, and Charlotte Golar Richie endorsing Marty Walsh during last year’s mayoral race.
The Cause Endorsement: State Senators Sonia Chang-Diaz and Jamie Eldridge supported gubernatorial candidate Don Berwick, due chiefly to his views on health care. Causes bring activists. The Mike Dukakis backed COD (Commonwealth Organization of Democrats) gave influential endorsements to reform-minded Democrats in the 1960s. Berwick couldn’t broaden his base enough to scare the front runners and former activist Dukakis couldn’t salvage the Mike Lake for Lieutenant Governor campaign.
Sometimes the activist makes the campaign the cause. Such is the case when canvassing superstar Kate Donaghue, a Democratic legend, gets behind a candidate.
The Silent Cal: sometimes "Silence is golden, but my eyes still see." Consider two public figures from Plymouth: Democratic Senate President Therese Murray and Republican sate representative Vinny DeMacedo. Murray faced a strong challenge for reelection in 2010 and 2012 by Sandwich Republican Tom Keyes. She narrowly won in 2010. The Republican campaign was aggressive and often ugly. Conspicuous for his silence was DeMacedo who did not endorse Keyes. Had he done so an taken to the campaign trail, Murray might have been defeated.
Fast foward to 2014. Murray is leaving the Senate and DeMacedo is hoping to succeed her but he needs to defeat Democratic former state representative Matt Patrick. Conspicuous for her silence is Murray. She has not been active on the campaign trail for Patrick.
The Hail Flutie: Celebrities are only useful if they are adored by the locals. Doug Flutie and Steve Sweeney came out in favor of Scott Brown in 2010 as did Curt Schilling. But celebrities often can’t carry Cushman’s bread and the glitz that surrounds them may count for little on the ground.
Endorsements from out-of-state (places well beyond Rt. 128): Texas Congressman Lamar Smith endorsed Mark Alliegro in the 9th congressional race. He supported Jeff Perry in 2010 over the less conservative Joe Malone. The endorsement matters to the small but hearty band of tea party travelers in one of the more conservative congressional districts in the state. Alliegro gave eventual winner John Chapman a close shave in the September primary.
The “You’ll get yours” Endorsement: There is a reason why folks in Worcester, loyal to former Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray, did not support either of the two front-runners for the Democratic nomination. Quincy Mayor Tom Koch, a close ally of former Treasurer Tim Cahill, recently very publicly endorsed Republican Charlie Baker. Martha Coakley’s campaign pounced: “Martha Coakley prosecuted Tim Cahill, a big supporter of Mayor Koch, for campaign finance violations, so it's no surprise to see Koch stand with Charlie Baker
A Small Circle of Friends: These are the obligatory endorsements that allies and friends give each other: Congressman Katherine Clark returning the favor of an early endorsement on Martha Coakley or home state politicians endorsing the Dukakis, Tsongas, Kerry, and Romney presidential campaigns. Sometimes it leads to odd pairings like Senator Ted Kennedy stumping for scandal-tarred Nick Mavroules in 1992.
The Buckner: Governor Paul Cellucci’s endorsement of Jack E. Robinson in 2000 before being forced to take it back. A middling Buckner: the parade of Democratic pols who backed John Tierney. A lesser Buckner: President Obama’s endorsement of Martha Coakley in 2010 after the train had left the station.
Endorsements that don’t count votes. In 1963, Representative Michael Paul Feeney of Hyde Park had two heavy hitters in his corner as he challenged controversial Speaker of the House John Thompson: newly elected Governor Endicott Peabody and newly elected Senator Ted Kennedy. But Johnson had the votes and Paul, Peabody, and Kennedy did not. He was reelected Speaker.
The Attempt at Relevance Endorsement: In the 2012 Senate race, former Democratic Mayors Ray Flynn of Boston, Konstantina Lukes of Worcester, and Charles Ryan of Springfield all endorsed Scott Brown. The response among Democrats was a collective yawn. In short, the former Mayors couldn’t deliver votes and Democrats knew it.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle: This is the endorsement that can kill you politically. Take the list of right wing columnists, talk show hosts, and tea partiers who enjoy being courted by liberal congressional candidate Marisa DeFranco and return the favor. Her candidacy is really useful for them while she gains only derision among those she needs to be nominated.
DeFranco, who pulled 6% of the vote in the recent Democratic primary, endorsed Republican Richard Tisei. She immediately used this as an opportunity to appear on Howie Carr’s radio show. Such an endorsement straddles two levels: the attempt at political relevance and the Friends of Eddie Coyle.