With Swift scheduled to come back this week, Galvin’s chance to increase his symbolic presence is slipping away, but the window of opportunity hasn’t closed entirely. It’s not too late to find some do-good groups to promote. Get footage with children and the elderly. Just look at Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton — not exactly known as a particularly warm person herself — whose image benefited from all these tactics in the lead-up to her Senate race in New York. Galvin’s glad-handing skills are never going to rival those of Hillary’s husband, but then again, whose are?
When it comes to more substantive issues, Galvin needs to let people know about his record as a lawmaker. For example, he sponsored the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act in the early 1980s — a ground-breaking piece of civil-rights legislation for its time. Or he could try tacking somewhat to the right and letting his competitors fight over the liberal vote. That might not jibe with his populist activities of recent years — such as fighting the big insurance companies — but Galvin, who is pro-life, has been linked with the old Ed King–John Silber wing of conservative Democrats in the past. None of the current gubernatorial hopefuls has staked out this niche, where State Senator Stephen Lynch seems to be doing well in the race for the Ninth Congressional District. It might be Galvin’s only chance to stand out as the contest approaches.
Although O’Brien came in second to Meehan in the recent poll, local columnists such as the Globe’s Scot Lehigh and the Herald’s Wayne Woodlief suggest that it’s actually Tolman — now in last place — who has the most to gain from the congressman’s departure. That’s because both Tolman and Meehan planned to run as advocates of campaign-finance reform and clean political money. (O’Brien is also considering a Clean Elections campaign, but her background as a Beacon Hill insider makes this platform a harder sell for her.) Tolman, a former state senator from Watertown, has already suffered for his vocal advocacy of the state Clean Elections Law. As the Globe and others reported in June, it essentially pushed him out of his job (though Tolman called it a "mutual decision") at the Boston branch of Holland & Knight, a Florida-based law firm that represents none other than House Speaker Tom Finneran — like Birmingham, one of those Beacon Hill leaders whom Tolman has criticized for not doing enough to fund public financing of elections.
In theory, Tolman does stand to gain, but only if he makes the right moves. Remember the stir he caused in the 1998 lieutenant governor’s race with a video of himself singing "I’m a Tolman" to the tune of "Soul Man"? He could build on those theatrics with media events that focus on his penchant for physical fitness; Tolman swims in the Atlantic for almost an hour a day and is also an avid runner. Perhaps Tolman could take a page from the book of Doris "Granny D" Haddock, who in 1999, at the age of 89, began trekking across the country on behalf of campaign-finance reform. He could run across the Commonwealth in several days, starting in Swift’s hometown of Williamstown, to bring publicity to his campaign — though he might want to wait until the weather cools down.
Gimmicks aside, voters also need to know that there is more to Tolman than just Clean Elections. During his time in the Senate, Tolman raised questions about the Big Dig and pushed to get the tobacco industry to disclose information about the ingredients of cigarettes. Ever the reformer, Tolman also voted against the entrenched Senate president William Bulger when his control came up for a vote. If he gets that message out, he could broaden his support.
Tolman won’t say what his specific plans are. "We’re gearing up for Clean Elections," he says. "It goes into effect August 1. That’s the day we start counting our contributions." He needs to pray that Clean Elections is fully implemented — and then hope that the public shares his outrage over Beacon Hill shenanigans.
Of course, neither he nor any other candidate has to take any of this advice. But Swift’s office says that she will return to a regular schedule this week. If they don’t snap into action, and if Swift intends to run on the Republican side, all she’ll have to do is sit back and prepare for the general election. At that point, it might take more than advice for any Democrat to defeat her.
Seth Gitell can be reached at sgitell[a]phx.com