Former secretary of labor Robert Reich
Nomination chances: 17%
Chances against Swift: 63%
Chances against Romney: 38%
Reich has certainly breathed life into the Democratic contest and made an immediate impact — mostly on Grossman. His oratorical flair and charisma continue to draw attention. Now that he is in the race, however, the immediate luster of his candidacy has dimmed a bit. Already, Reich has had to backtrack from statements in his 1997 memoir Locked in the Cabinet critical of Representative Barney Frank, as first reported in the Phoenix (see "All the Reich Moves," Today’s Jolt, February 7, at BostonPhoenix.com). He’s also had to modify his assessment, made in an earlier Boston Herald story, of former president Bill Clinton’s level of support for his campaign. "Insofar as the article stated that I encouraged Bob Reich to run or supported his candidacy, it is not correct," said Clinton in a statement sent to the Globe’s Scot Lehigh.
A January Mass Insight Poll showed Reich in the lead, with the support of 21 percent of likely Democratic voters. It’s hard to know whether this fifth of the Democratic electorate represents a ceiling or a floor for the candidate. A convincing argument could be made that Reich attracted a segment of the state’s most progressive and reform-minded voters right out of the box, but that he’ll now have to struggle to appeal to the Democratic electorate’s middle. It’s best to assume that Reich’s popularity will grow at least a bit as voters respond to his loose and fluid personality.
During this portion of the campaign, Reich is wisely spending time getting to know the Commonwealth’s political hinterlands, including Berkshire County, which he didn’t seem to know was the state’s westernmost locality when asked about it by a local radio personality, according to press reports. (During one debate, he mentioned a campaign stop in "Lawrence, Massachusetts" — did he fear listeners would think he meant Lawrence, Kansas, if he didn’t specify the state?)
Even if he gets the requisite 15 percent of delegates at the convention, Reich faces a fundraising gap. Even his least-well-funded competitor, Tolman, now has more than $800,000 through Clean Elections; Grossman, O’Brien, and Birmingham each has much more money than Reich. He has flirted with a Clean Elections candidacy, but thus far has not collected the necessary donations to qualify. Given that the state’s campaign-finance laws limit a candidate to only $500 per donor per year, he has a lot of work to do.
Money aside, Reich will hope to use free media to propel his campaign. Both Birmingham and O’Brien will seek to make it a two-person race and establish themselves as the Commonwealth-rooted alternative to Reich. Accordingly, he stands an excellent chance of being the candidate whom the public sees as a conduit for anti–Beacon Hill rage. As the campaign proceeds, he might find it necessary to keep a lid on his campaign shticklach — such as arguing that he, at a height of four feet, 10 and a half inches, is a more environmentally sound individual than the six-foot-four Warren Tolman, and that no one’s going to "out-renewable-energy me."
Oddly, Reich’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination improve if 2002 Olympic Games Organizing Committee president and former Senate candidate Romney joins the race. Romney’s presence will draw unenrolled voters toward a contested Republican primary, leaving the Democratic primary to turn on a more left-leaning electorate. Independent voters who might have selected O’Brien or Grossman in the Democratic primary will instead cast ballots in the Republican Swift-Romney match-up.
Like Birmingham, Reich can — with more success — make the competency argument against Swift. Whatever else his opponents might say, nobody can assert that Reich, a former Rhodes scholar, lacks the requisite intelligence or skill to be governor. His team promises to be an energetic and highly talented group likely to outmatch Swift.
Against Romney, the picture becomes cloudy. With the national prominence conferred by the Salt Lake City Games, Romney can more than equal Reich’s star power. Theirs would be a classic ideological battle, with Romney’s conservative leanings pitted against Reich’s liberal ones. In that case, expect labor to come out strongly for Reich.
Former Democratic National Committee chair and MassEnvelopePlus president Steve Grossman
Nomination chances: 14%
Chances against Swift: 63%
Chances against Romney: 56%
Six months before the primary, Grossman remains an uncertain quantity — a millionaire who demonstrates the pluck of Horatio Alger, but who languishes near the bottom of the polls. For more than two years, he has devoted considerable energy to crisscrossing the state, visiting local activists. Recently, he unveiled his new plan urging a series of detailed cost-saving measures — such as saving $100 million by pooling prescription-drug purchasing, as do Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire — aimed at allowing the state to maintain the tax cut without unduly cutting legitimate government programs. Grossman’s plan — which includes taking $750 million from the rainy-day fund, $150 million from the tobacco settlement, and saving $17 million by cutting Beacon Hill–dictated patronage jobs in the judiciary — is more specific than any of his Democratic rivals’. He has also launched an effective new ad that makes the case for embracing his fiscally prudent approach during a troubled financial time.
But he faces a double challenge. First, he must continue to accrue delegates to get the necessary 15 percent — a process complicated by his stance against delaying the tax cut (although sources say it hasn’t cost him any delegates). Second, he must make himself better known to a public that must warm to him — a process that is somewhat stymied by the hyper-disciplined campaign he wants to run. As the only one in the field who never served in an official government capacity, Grossman is working overtime to be perceived as a "nuts and bolts" candidate, rather than a frivolous businessman.
It might help if Grossman could loosen up a bit. Tightly orchestrated talking points are effective, but they work better if sprinkled naturally into speeches and comments in the manner mastered by his old political compadre, Bill Clinton.
That said, if he reaches the general election, Grossman could pose a tough challenge to either Swift or Romney. Like the leading Republicans, Grossman promotes fiscal responsibility. But while neither Swift nor Romney has a particularly positive labor record, Grossman can tout his close relationship with AFL-CIO president John Sweeney and his long-time union shop. For three generations, Grossman and his family have run a successful company and maintained good relations with workers. This history contrasts especially sharply with that of Romney, who will try to paper over his poor union record.
Former Watertown state senator Warren Tolman
Nomination chances: 10%
Chances against Swift: 40%
Chances against Romney: 33%
Tolman’s candidacy truly began just last Thursday, when he received his first Clean Elections check for more than $800,000 (an amount actually equivalent to a little over $1 million, which represents what he now has plus what he would have had to spend on fundraising costs). So far, he has spent less than $500 to organize for the Democratic caucuses. Until very recently, he has had to fight Reich and Grossman for the outsider’s mantle without the benefit of money. This new infusion of money lends his campaign a legitimacy it previously lacked.
But as Tolman prepares to advance his standing, he faces the reality that the economic downturn has rendered his marquee issue — Clean Elections — less popular. Last week’s Boston Herald poll showed Clean Elections’ popularity plummeting.
He may be helped by the fact that he has already run a statewide campaign — for lieutenant governor in 1998. Tolman’s camp suspects there remains a reservoir of good will for him out there. If the convention goes to a second ballot, some regional mayors and other local pols may choose to tap him.
Nonetheless, Tolman now must work extra hard to convince voters that our campaign-finance system lies at the heart of many of the ills plaguing the state, such as spiraling Big Dig costs, problems at Massport, and environmental damage. If that argument fails, Tolman’s electoral prospects look dim. But he’s perfectly poised to play the dark-horse role. He is relaxed and playing with found money — literally. That makes him a little dangerous.
His viability in a race against Swift hinges on whether the Democratic establishment — at odds with him over Clean Elections — can rally behind him. Unless this happens, Tolman will find himself in a position similar to that of his 1998 running mate Scott Harshbarger: close, but no cigar. His good-government-reformist message carries even less potency against Romney.