Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How to primary Deval...

I'm talking about challenging the governor within the Democratic primary today. I don't think anybody will do it successfully, much less do it at all. However, if Tim Cahill can launch a quixotic fizzle of an independent campaign, then I get to engage in far less expensive dreams as well.

To get far against Deval in a primary, I think a candidate would need three things:

  1. A claim on being taken seriously;
  2. A platform that would attract many progressives;
  3. A willingness to move outside Deval's orbit.

A claim on being taken seriously

This doesn't mean that you have to be a person of significant electoral success in the past, or even notable experience in government. Deval Patrick fit neither of those criteria, and he went from being a corporate executive to governor. Heck, Obama's president on a thinner elected resume than any we saw in years and he's doing a fairly good job as prez to boot. So while the natural instinct is to look at accomplished Democrats in our Commonwealth's government, Deval (like Arnold Schwarzenegger) has proven that there are other routes to a governor's seat.

The reason you need to be taken seriously is to attract talent and votes eventually. You'd need to attract some talent within the Commonwealth to build a campaign, or you may already have it "in-house". True, the governor has a lot of political talent in the Bay State wrapped up, but he also is staffing from Obama's shop and thus leaves more unemployed hacks than normal out there. Plus, I imagine some good folks in the Legislative branch could lend you their rolodex as well. Of course, Deval had a head start here, as he enjoyed a great deal of talent on loan from a certain freshman Illinois Senator who was looking to conduct a practice drill of his own future campaign.

Talent and votes are attracted by money. And to claim that they should be taken seriously, this person would need money. Whether from corporate sources (Deval), the fiscal resources of a wealthy candidate (Gabrieli), or the established fundraising networks of an established politician (say, Coakley). Money tells talent that you are for real, and it attracts more money. It puts in place the ability to seem serious by coordinating a presence at different events, signs on lawns, bumper stickers on cars. The upfront costs of such a campaign will not be handled by supporters independently coming to you -- you need to find a way to cover them. To go from nobody on the public radar screen without finding a way to quickly access cash is difficult, which tends to restrict the list of possibles.

2. A platform that would attract many progressives
Believe it or not, this is the easy part of challenging the governor in a Democratic primary. His choices have often been moderate or even conservative, and there remains a long list of positions that could appeal to self-defined progressives. To wit:

  • No further promotion of gambling beyond the already extensive presence of the Massachusetts lottery. No slots, no "racinos", no "resort" casinos (as Deval and Cahill support);
  • Support of public schools through respect of local democracy and opposition to the privatization/charter scheme (of which Deval is an enthusiastic backer);
  • Raising the corporate income tax (Deval blinked on this);
  • Implementing a graduated income tax so that the wealthy pay their share (He's staying out of this fight);
  • Reining in profligate spending and breaks on privileged sectors of the economy, such as "life sciences" and making Hollywood movies. (Billions of spending right there)
  • A commitment to campaign finance reform, even Clean Elections. (Deval circumvents the law already)

Granted, the population of persuadable voters who hold all six of these positions may not be large, but I suspect that the number of persuadables who hold 4 or 5 of them is large enough to get the ball rolling.

3-A willingness to move outside Deval's orbit.

This is the trickiest one. Many people with progressive bona fides and a network of donors (Jamie Eldridge, for instance) are deeply enmeshed with Deval already. Others with bright futures may content themselves to wait out Deval's moment and hope for an inside track on the next open primary (Martha Coakley, for instance). Of course, the last two candidates who tried to slide from one executive department to the other can tell you it isn't that easy. This narrows the list considerably as there are few people with fiscal backing who seem at all interested in taking on the governor.

The only real possibility is a rare Massachusetts politician who hasn't folded into Deval Patrick completely -- Therese Murray and Thomas Menino spring to mind, but both would be losing power in such a move -- or a thorough dark horse who can tap into money quickly.

I think the ideological opportunity is there, and is sadly the easiest to reach. I think such a candidate would get the 15% at the state party convention, because seeing a strong legitimate candidate flame out at an activists' meeting would do severe damage to the wide appeal to any eventual nominee (and Deval's people know that). There is a tremendous amount of "issue space" unoccupied in this race -- Mihos has the right, and Baker is chasing the center right. Cahill is laying claim to a sliver of the middle, and Deval sits in the center while profiting from a dubious claim on the left. If a candidate laid question to that claim, we would learn who is the real Deval, and who is the real Democratic Party -- and both would be the richer for it.

Not that I expect this to happen, but it's fun to think about.


Daniel said...

Menino v. Patrick? Now that would be pretty awesome. If James Michael Curley can do it, why not Tom?

Ryan said...

Run, Therese, Run! (We could really use grownup leadership in the Senate, after all, and I sure would love watching her campaign go down in flames.)

I've always had the sense that Coakley wants to be Senator.