Nomination chances: 66%
Chances against O'Brien: 44%
Chances against Birmingham: 75%
Changes against Reich: 62%
Chances against Grossman: 44%
Chances against Tolman: 66%
You can’t have a better month than Romney enjoyed in February. His stewardship of the Winter Olympics went off perfectly. If you wanted to put a dollar amount on how much Romney’s visibility was worth, you could estimate it at a minimum of $40 million. Between his own prime-time appearances and the amount of time NBC commentators spent talking about him, Romney probably garnered at least 20 minutes of media exposure — walking out solemnly with President George Bush, saluting the American flag at the World Trade Center, explaining how he saved the Games from financial ruin. In 2002, the Olympics received their highest ratings in recent years. Twenty minutes of exposure multiplied by an approximate figure of $2 million per minute for advertising translates into a value of $40 million — an amount that overshadows the campaign spending of almost any candidate in memory (except for that of New York’s mayor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg).
Romney’s Olympic experience becomes even more valuable in Massachusetts because it represents the perfect counterpoint to Swift’s hack-riddled administration. He never served time "working" at Massport (as did the governor) or signed off on billions of dollars in Big Dig spending (as did Swift’s predecessors Paul Cellucci and William Weld). Instead, Romney brought financial order to a massive, unwieldy government project. And if he runs, Romney will surely note that he took no salary for his three-year stint with the Olympics.
The question for Romney is not whether he can defeat Swift, but whether he wants to muddy himself in a hard-fought, dirty primary. Now enjoying Olympian heights, he may not want to join the likes of Tolman and Grossman in visiting the Merrimack Valley, the South Coast, and the Berkshires.
Romney will need to get 15 percent of delegates at the Republican convention, something he should have little trouble accomplishing. At least that many Republican activists are angry with — or have been alienated by — Swift. And a sizable number of Republican delegates never liked Cellucci, either, choosing to favor former treasurer Joe Malone in 1998; they’re now unlikely to turn to Cellucci’s successor and may support Romney as an alternative. Romney can likely draw a base of insider support from delegates pledged to former Republican Party chair Jim Rappaport. Also, Republican activist Christy Mihos, whom Swift fired from the Mass Turnpike Authority, still has friends in the party and might be able to prop up Romney.
In a statewide race, however, Romney will face increased questions about his conservative social positions (as exemplified by Joan Vennochi’s February 28 Globe column, who is the man behind mitt?) and generally anti-labor record (which is good in Utah, but bad in Massachusetts). On the flip side, the religiously grounded attacks that helped the Kennedys defeat him in 1994 will fall flat this time.
Governor Jane Swift
Nomination chances: 33%
Chances against O'Brien: 38%
Chances against Birmingham: 60%
Chances against Reich: 38%
Chances against Grossman: 38%
Chances against Tolman: 60%
The most remarkable thing about our governor is that she’s still standing. Despite her seemingly unending roster of political mistakes, Swift — and those around her — remains defiant. A nationally known Republican powerhouse is mulling a run in her home state. So what? Sexism, that’s what it is.
Swift has something that neither of her predecessors had: ambition. She wants the governorship. Desperately. Gone is the Weldian nonchalance. Absent is the Cellucci-style distractedness. Swift, it seems, loves being governor, and she will fight like a banshee to retain the office.
That means she will use every trick in the book (at least every trick known to her staff of fiercely loyal acolytes). Whether this show of force will be enough to keep Romney out of Massachusetts is unclear. If she must face Romney, she will probably lose; the battle, however, will be closer than anyone thinks.
Swift need not worry about rapidly diminishing support from the state’s Republicans. They don’t matter. They’re only 15 percent of the state’s electorate. What she must do is encourage unenrolled voters to select her name in a Republican primary.
Although things appear grim for the governor, she still has a few bright spots ahead of her. Soon, House Speaker Tom Finneran and Birmingham will begin their budget wrangling. Because the two men have such disparate interests, there is no guarantee that this year’s budget process will be any smoother than last year’s (although Birmingham has promised to make it different). Any time the legislature looks bad, Swift is in a position to look good. She may also benefit if the economy improves. An improved economy means that state revenues will go up without delaying the tax cut. That may play well to voters in key swing areas of the state.
Swift’s effort to paint herself as a staunch defender of tax cuts, however, may be tarnished due to her position on raising Mass Turnpike tolls. She should try to make the case that the toll increase represented a "tough decision" on her part in order to fund the Big Dig. But three consecutive Republican governors have not been able to sort out the Big Dig problem — a fact that could hinder Swift even more than her own numerous political mistakes.
Seth Gitell can be reached at sgitell[a]phx.com