THE QUESTION is, which one? "Right now the betting is if both of them stay in play, Lynch wins," says one Democratic insider. "The strong feeling is that Lynch hit his knees the minute Jacques got into the race." But both campaigns are vowing to stay in the running. And both think their candidate will emerge victorious against Lynch.
Although Jacques’s endorsements might suggest that she’s the stronger progressive candidate, she hasn’t locked up local liberal support by any means. "At some point, progressive voters who care about choice, who care about having someone who consistently opposed the death penalty, have to ask themselves if they really want someone like Stephen Lynch as congressman," says Joyce supporter David Breen, a lawyer and member of the state Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.
In fact, perhaps the most significant issue of all is how each candidate approaches this question: the danger of splitting the progressive vote and thus handing the election to Lynch. And so far, neither seems to be handling it very well.
The Jacques campaign simply refuses to acknowledge that Joyce is a threat. "Our sense is that the voters of the Ninth District want someone with a proven record of leadership, and that will be the distinction between Cheryl Jacques and the other candidates in the race," says Jacques spokesperson Angus McQuilken, evading the issue. Unofficially, Jacques’s campaign strategy is to ignore Joyce’s appeal to progressive voters. Jacques supporters look at the undecided voters in the Herald poll and see a pot of gold. They point out that she garnered the support of 10 percent of voters without spending a dime on television advertising.
They also point to a Jacques poll taken before she entered the campaign, showing that none of the declared candidates appealed to progressive voters. In other words, they claim, Joyce had his suburban Milton base and that was all. Indeed, the Jacques people see Joyce’s eight percent drop between the June 29 Herald poll and the one published last Sunday, giving him just 12 percent of the vote, as a sign that they’ve already gained support from progressives. Says one Jacques partisan: "This is going to be a race about who can challenge Senator Stephen Lynch. Given that [Joyce] was well over 20 percent in the last Herald poll, you have to wonder if he can be the progressive standard-bearer against Lynch."
Joyce, however, believes that he and Jacques both appeal to liberals, but that his is a superior campaign organization. "Cheryl and I agree on a number of issues," he says. "I’ve been a strong advocate of gay rights. We both receive failing grades from the NRA." Joyce supporters say their candidate has experience with special elections, having won a Senate seat in a hard-fought 1997 race. And they suggest privately that Joyce, whose district contains both suburbs and parts of Boston, has the advantage over Jacques, whose current district is exclusively suburban. Though they acknowledge that as the only woman in the race, Jacques has been boosted by lots of coverage in the daily papers and on local television, they point out that their field organization is already in place.
Further, Joyce, unlike Jacques, is working with several outside consultants — notably political consultant Doug Rubin of Viewpoint Strategies and nationally recognized media consultant Henry Sheinkopf. He’s also tapped a former Democratic official, Mark White, and two former aides of deceased congressman Joe Moakley: Sheila Hill of Randolph, who was Moakley’s campaign manager, and Jim Mahoney, formerly the congressman’s field director. Although Jacques is using one outside pollster, Opinion Dynamics of Cambridge, and has landed the support of John Weinfurter, Moakley’s former chief of staff, she is relying primarily on trusted insiders like McQuilken and Chrisler.