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ROBERT KEOUGH, COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE EDITOR (MODERATOR): Welcome to Finish Line, the latest in a series of political gabfests that we’ve put together between MassINC, Commonwealth magazine and issuesource. At issuesource, in collaboration with the State House News Service, we follow 12 to 15 key issues in state government at any one time, including the campaign season. We have been providing daily updates for well over a year. We want to continue the discussion that we began last year at the start of the legislative session. We picked it up in May with Home Stretch. Now we are getting dangerously close, perhaps not close enough for some of us, to the Finish Line. We have an esteemed panel of pundits and prognosticators. I want to do a little check-in about where the race stands. Polls show the big lead that Patrick had has narrowed, but is he in freefall?
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE MANAGING DIRECTOR: I doubt he is. I think we could not be at a more fascinating moment in this race. It’s one of the better ones in my career. What he is doing is testing whether he can get away with ignoring everyone’s advice – the Mike Dukakis and John Kerry advice that when you get attacked, don’t just stand there and take it. You heard it over and over in this state. It was our guys that it got done to. I mean that in ‘us’ Massachusetts. If you saw what went on with Clinton last night, he is clearly insisting on not taking that advice. It could work. I just don’t know. She is running an excellent negative campaign. He is not taking the advice basically on principle and also on strategy. It couldn’t be more delicious.
JOAN VENNOCHI, BOSTON GLOBE COLUMNIST: I don’t think he is in freefall. I think the fact that he is doing what he is doing – taking the high road – shows that her tactics haven’t been working. If they were working, he’d bee getting off the high road faster than he seems to be right now.
VIRGINIA BUCKINGHAM, BOSTON HERALD COLUMNIST: I would point out that he started on low road with the Patriot Majority 527 ads, which were Democratic-backed ads that accused her of being Jane Swift-like basically. So let’s put aside that he’s running the most positive campaign ever. His surrogates are not. I do think he is in freefall. Tracking shows him in the single digits now ahead of her. How do you blow a 35-point lead? That’s unbelievable. His ads are the probably most ineffective ads I have seen in politics in this state. It’s his to win and it’s his to lose and he’s losing.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN NEWSNIGHT HOST: Are they talking about a guy who’s up by 13 points? I don’t think he’s in freefall. The 39 percent poll was primary night, a glorious night for the guy. That was inflated. His numbers are down. The staunchest Deval supporter would say his performance during this soft on crime marathon has been abysmal. I had him on my show last night. I did the question everyone asks – isn’t it fair to say that while you care about constitutional rights, you are more concerned about the rights of perpetrators than victims. He says it’s not fair and in the middle of this drops in that he was the lawyer for Desiree Washington in the Mike Tyson rape case. I say to myself that’s maybe the highest profile rape case of the last 15 years in America. He represented her in the civil proceeding and it’s taken us two weeks to find that out. My estimation is had he said it on day one despite all the other problems, this maybe wouldn’t have been nipped in the bud, but would have been nipped to a serious degree. What he is going on to a great degree is stunning charisma. He is an incredible speaker. The nuts and bolts of how one deals with criticism and low points – I think he has far from mastered with three weeks to go. Is that an answer to the question?
KEOUGH: I think so. Let’s rewind a bit. We have not been together since the Democratic primary. Let’s get a sense of how we got to this point. A year ago Deval Patrick was an unknown longshot candidate, perhaps running a campaign to get his name out there and to prepare for a future run. Chris Gabrieli was on the sidelines with no plans to do anything this political year and Tom Reilly was the presumptive, if not prohibitive nominee for the Democratic Party. Now Patrick is widely considered to be the frontrunner in the race. Chris Gabrieli is sadder, wiser and a few million dollars short. And Tom Reilly doesn’t seem to have shown his face since Primary Day. In a nutshell, what happened? How did Deval Patrick take the Democratic field by storm?
SANDLER: Marie St. Fleur.
BUCKINGHAM: He made no pretense to be a moderate so he appealed to the activist wing of the party that controls the caucuses and the convention. From there there was almost no stopping the guy. You had two candidates who could have beat Kerry Healey. Chris Gabrieli could have handily beat her. Tom Reilly would have had the tougher road but a moderate guy that could have presented the I’ll be the fiscal conservative Democrat and would have gotten the independents back in the Democrats’ corner. Deval appealed to the base and the base responded.
VENNOCHI: I don’t think this was a race about ideology, even the primary. It was race about personality, about someone from the outside coming in and taking a base by storm and sort of yes, inspiring people, if you want to use words like that in politics today if they still apply. People say it’s the cult of Deval. To some degree it was during the primary and it worked. And he you know challenged the system, came from out of you know the network of elected officials and he won. I think it’s kind of as simple as that. I don’t think the election has been about ideology. If it got on that track, if it got back on the tax rollback and back on issues and ideology, there is an outside chance that Kerry Healey could still win, but if it stays where it is now it still is about personality and the potential to lead, then I think it’s Deval. I am talking as long as Jim Braude.
BRAUDE: I am a huge believer that even if people don’t like the message, that if they respect the messenger they can move towards him. My favorite poll – I am poll obsessed – was the one where we disagree with Deval on everything – obviously I am exaggerating – and we are voting for him. It’s in great part because people want to be led. This is a guy who inspires people. It’s not just personality. A piece of it is. But he’s a leader. You can argue the change thing. Do you want to talk about Healey now?
SANDLER: We ought to talk about Romney. It sounded when Joan was going through those elements like she was talking about Mitt Romney in 2002. He took the state by storm in 2002 and created cult that reached across party lines and was successful by making a campaign based on leadership, ideals and qualities and organizing a base and moving out from there. That’s what you do in Massachusetts and that’s what Patrick is doing now.
BUCKINGHAM: I don’t see how he’s doing that. In what way is Patrick reaching out beyond his base?
SANDLER: It’s not just Gabrieli and Reilly beating Healey consistently and among independents. When you ask the whole electorate who do you prefer for governor, Healey has not won any of those for a year and she loses to Patrick and has consistently the whole year. That’s not to say she can’t take the race. But it’s not as if Patrick is so liberal and wild that he hasn’t got a shot against Healey. She has never led Patrick in a poll and that’s very significant. If you combine that with those leadership qualities that appeal to people in the same way Mike Dukakis performed his call and Mitt Romney, he’ll win, he’ll win by maybe a few points.
BUCKINGHAM: Mitt Romney was behind Shannon O’Brien by about 13 points at this point the campaign. And he ran against Beacon Hill, as against the Legislature and a Gang of Three and that’s how he won.
VENNOCHI: I don’t like feeling sorry for you. But Romney had what Kerry Healey doesn’t have right now – stature. I think it’s a real stature gap right now, of how people perceive. They may not agree with his past or everything he did as a civil rights attorney or the cases he took but they look at a guy who’s accomplished a great deal in his life and they look at this other candidate who is a smart woman and who is more articulate than she comes across through this ad barrage – but they are measuring stature and accomplishment and as Jim said, not necessarily agreeing with anything the guy stands for but saying this is a guy who can lead us to the next place. Three weeks is a long time in politics. It can change. He has made some really bad mistakes and can make some more which will shift momentum. But right now I think those things are bigger than ideology.
BRAUDE: Can we talk about Mitt and the Healey thing since it’s been brought up? I think Mitt Romney’s treatment of this woman is as disgraceful as I have ever seen in politics. Literally and figuratively having her trail behind him like she is his pet. The first press conference after the Big Dig – I think Romney was masterful – and unless a reporter had asked the question about what are you going to do with the business people downtown, she would not have had one word. What would have hurt him to have her be a participant, even if it were not a Welducci thing? Secondly, this thing the other night, Sunday night, not only in my humble opinion was it disgraceful that he continues to send this pathetic message against gay marriage – as my colleague Margery Eagan said, if he’s worried about one-parent households, is he also going to outlaw divorce? A wonderful point. Why did he have to do it now and why here? It’s almost like there is a conscious effort to undermine this woman’s candidacy. Let him do it in Michigan or Iowa or South Carolina or on November 12th. A Globe piece the other day he had this gratuitous comment about how he left the state so she could sign the sex offender bill. It was like she was his little puppy. It’s utter disrespect for her, despite what he says. It has damaged her dramatically in this race. I happen to think she is quite a competent woman. If I were her, she has as compelling a story about her early life as Deval Patrick does. I guarantee it that unless you work for the campaign, you have no idea what the hell her upbringing was like. Ask Deval Patrick how much is two plus two, he’ll say when I grew up on the South Side of Chicago on welfare. And you ask Kerry Healey what was it like growing up with a father with a heart attack and a mother who was a teacher and not doing great in Florida and she will start talking about the CORI legislation. People want to feel even if you are loaded today that you have some piece of you that allows you to connect with who they are today. I think her story is incredibly compelling and she just can’t or won’t tell it.
BUCKINGHAM: I’ll save my time. Ditto.
VENNOCHI: Let’s take a call from the car.
SANDLER: It is too bad. We are stuck in an era when our political communications are pretty phony. We’ve got these debates and TV ads and some day when I am as old as Jim I suspect we are going to move past a rather lamentable era in the way our leaders communicate with the people. I really think we have a lot of formats right now that don’t allow people to communicate in honest ways. Debates don’t really cut it – everything about them sounds phony – and the ads are just marketing. That’s a separate problem.
KEOUGH: Let’s deconstruct the four candidates a bit. What is the proposition they are offering voters? Are they doing it effectively? It’s useful to think about what it is that each of these candidates represent. Let’s start with Patrick? Having gotten through the primary, he is talking to the full electorate and how does the politics of hope amount to anything? Without him, is Massachusetts hopeless?
VENNOCHI: It’s an example where his opponent could do a better job pressing him on that. I was driving in the usual bumper-to-bumper traffic and heard an ad from a nursing union and I heard Together We Can, a great slogan. But he still hasn’t spelled out together we can do what? If I were his opponent I would put that on him in a debate and say what is it we can do together and how much does it cost and sort of press on that.
BRAUDE: The positive appeal is the positive. I don’t find this empty frankly at all, the notion that we are going to attempt to stop screaming at each other even though there will still be screaming. Ted Kennedy is saying he is being Swift Boated and people say he is behaving like Kerry did in not responding very effectively. I think people like the fact that he has not brutalized this woman in what we have come to expect in politics. Secondly, the language does matter. People do feel disengaged, outside the system, disrespected. You see the Legislature. The thing that stuck with me – emblazoned on my soul – this drunk driving debacle of last year where you needed Ron Bersani, the grandfather of Melanie, to be the hero and to the credit of Romney and Healey. That whole notion is valuable to people when they feel government doesn’t care what they think, that their boss doesn’t care and that there’s this bowling alone deal with Robert Putnam. Well you can bowl with us. And the other notion that he allegedly has no specifics, if he has no specifics then how has Healey been able to say his plans will cost $8.2 million, he is wrong on immigration and taxes? He must be saying something. So I think it’s a compelling message in a time of desperation and disengagement.
VENNOCHI: So you buy into Together We Can?
BRAUDE: We can. Yes we can.
SANDLER: Don’t forget he’s winning even if he hasn’t been hard on the specifics. By the way we know he’s going to basically do what Kerry Healey would do and work for better schools and safer streets.
BUCKINGHAM: I think that’s wrong. I think he will take a dramatic shift in the direction of this state for 16 years on fiscal policy, number one, and criminal justice policy, number two, and go in the other direction. An example, since 1990 the parole rate has been cut by at least 50 percent and that’s a combination of the attitude on the part of governors and appointees to the parole board who are former prosecutors. Deval Patrick is going to have a more rehabilitation approach to crime. Right or wrong, it just is. And that’s a dramatic shift from where we’ve been. It’s a big change in where we’ve been. Fiscal policy. Governors up until now – Romney went a little bit beyond it – have gone in there and said I am not going to raise taxes, period. We can do anything else you want to do, I’ll sit down and talk and figure it out, but this is off the table. That required coming up with some other solutions.
BRAUDE: Like $800 million in fees.
BUCKINGHAM: I said Mitt Romney did not exactly follow that game plan but the governors I worked for did. Deval is not even going to have a pretense of going in there. He is already saying he is going to let cities and towns raise local option taxes. He has not ruled out broad-based taxes. He’s going to approach this question of fiscal policy with taxes being a legitimate course. It is a dramatic change from most of the last 16 years.
VENNOCHI: I can’t argue with you on the parole board. I don’t know when terms are up. On fiscal policy and taxes, he would be going up against sort of the will of people. My guess is that he wouldn’t just raise taxes. He would say that these are some things I would like to do. People would say how much is that going to cost? You just can’t unilaterally say this is going to happen. People will have to decide what their priorities are – do they want to spend more for it or don’t they? There is the push or the will of the people.
BUCKINGHAM: I can’t tell you how hard it is for a governor, having sat up their for eight years, when little kids who have cancer and whose coverage for their wigs under Medicaid is being cut and they come to the governor’s office and they start talking to the press and the governor and the governor’s aides – there are dozens and dozens of examples of really hard decisions that the governor has had to make and if you don’t have this kind of base ‘I can’t raise taxes so what else can we do?’ you are going to go with the you know terrible cases in front of you and give them money because they’re human and the politics inside that building are going to drive you to that – forget the will of the people. They really don’t care about the will of the people on Beacon Hill.
SANDLER: There is consensus now about the gas tax.
VENNOCHI: I guess I am on the side of more humanity.
BUCKINGHAM: Well that’s legitimate.
KEOUGH: Let’s move on to Kerry Healey. What proposition is she offering to voters? I was struck in August by Dan Kennedy, who is no Republican sympathizer, on his blog said Healey could be the most attractive Republican candidate since Bill Weld because she could represent a return to the Weld formula of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism. A return to that after something of a departure with something like Mitt Romney who has gotten less liberal on social issues as he spreads his wings nationally. Last week Brian McGrory writes basically saying that Healey has gone farther politically than she ever really had any right to expect to. What does she offer or could have offered to voters?
BRAUDE: I don’t think she talks about taxes enough. I think she finally got it right in the Springfield debate. I don’t think the issue on this tax cut is at all the $2.75. It should be non-stop, if I were her, the voters spoke. Period. Most of you know I have a predilection for what we call fair taxes, I called it in my former career. I think the income tax should be rolled back to 5 percent for that reason alone – the voters wanted it. Even if they have no idea what they are doing and even if it’s counterproductive, they voted for it, give it to them. In that debate, she raised the point and you gotta go through Christy and Grace Ross and no one could remember what the hell the question was. I would hammer that day after day after day. Number two. There is a certain appeal to me when Democrats in Washington are artfully saying – I hope they don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory – that one party government is a problem – it’s a pretty powerful problem here. It’s called Gang of Three but it’s not really anymore. Not many know who DiMasi and Travaglini are. They knew Bulger and Flaherty and Finneran. But I can’t believe it’s not an ad that says ten congressmen, two senators, X number of constitutional office, the Legislature at 89 percent or something – all Democrats. Even if you like Deval Patrick a little more than Kerry Healey, I could see that person saying I will throw a vote to the Republican because I do like some balance in this government. She said both things. I don’t think she said either wildly effectively. That’s what I would be doing if I were her.
VENNOCHI: Ditto. Short answer. If she been running ads on those two things – the people spoke and what you just suggested on one-party rule – instead of what she spent the last three weeks on – I think that would have made a difference.
BUCKINGHAM: Patrick would still have a double digit lead if that was the case. She had to define Patrick. She had to show what he is about besides ideology because that wasn’t working. People didn’t care about his ideology, so she went to his record.
SANDLER: That’s why I say this is the first really serious negative campaign run by a Republican in this state since 1990.
BUCKINGHAM: Craig said this to me earlier and I said really, I thought we ran one every time.
SANDLER: Weld was defending Weld in 1994. Cellucci was running basically a positive campaign for the most part about their record in 1998. Mitt Romney was talking about marshalling resources and improving the economy in 2002. Kerry Healey’s message right now is Deval Patrick must be stopped. Go to her web site. It’s all about Deval Patrick. So what we are testing is whether a really serious Republican campaign – everyone writes this is the way the Republicans do it – well they have not lost an election since 1986 and yet they have never really during that stretch run a full-out blitz negative campaign.
BUCKINGHAM: I could send you reels and reels of ads. I have no problem with negative ads. They distinguish between truth and non-truth. As long as the ad is true, I have no problem if it is negative. Republicans in this state have had to – I am not sure what you are talking about. Remember the three fatties ad in ’94?
SANDLER: I am not saying it hasn’t happened at all. What I am saying is it’s axiomatic. The Democrats don’t fight hard, play nasty – however you want to put it – as well as the Republicans do. And in fact they keep losing elections here because their challenge has been to be very negative and get rid of the incumbents and they haven’t been able to do it successfully. The Republicans on the other hand have been on the defensive, basically projecting a positive message about their record of accomplishment. It’s mostly been positive.
VENNOCHI: It’s because this candidate does not have a record. She has no record and she has Romney around her neck.
BRAUDE: Two things about the Healey campaign. Despite the fact that there is a consensus that Patrick is one of the most inspirational speakers we have seen in a long time. I was speaking to someone last night at the station about how well he has done in the debates but then I thought about it. Has he won a debate? I don’t think the answer is yes. He had done well on some. But for a guy that clearly is a better performer he hasn’t had a huge debate win. I would also if I were her be challenging him 24 hours a day to a one-on-one debate. I asked him last night if he would do it and he said no he will not agree to it for a whole variety of reasons. If pressure builds, that’s her best shot. Here’s what her problem is. This debate will be huge at Faneuil Hall. I don’t think she believes all the stuff she has in her ads. This let ‘em loose, he’s going to let all the rapists out? I don’t think she believes it. When she has to turn to him Thursday night and say it to his face and say something like this and he says, I assume, I hope he says do you actually believe, even though you disagree with things I have done with LeGuer and Carl Ray Songer, that this is what I am going to do? I don’t think she does. She is a stiff allegedly just like John Kerry was a stiff. One reason he was even stiffer in the presidential campaign was he had to defend a position he didn’t really believe in, which was his vote for the war. He voted for the war because he was told he couldn’t be elected president without doing it. She has to go out and defend something she does not believe in. I was at the RNC when she gave the attack speech at the convention on John Kerry. It was about the worst speech I have ever heard in my life. Not because she’s a bad speaker but because it’s not who she is. That’s something to watch for Thursday night. Can she pull off the attack ad coming through her mouth and I don’t think the answer is yes.
BUCKINGHAM: I think you are completely wrong on this. Healey came into the Herald yesterday to do the ed board that they all do at the end of the campaign. She made a point about the criminal defense bar stuff – Mass Lawyer’s Weekly came out with the first-ever endorsement, for Deval Patrick. The lawyers were all insulted about her ads. She said look, I have been in the Legislature fighting for Melanie’s Law and these sex offender bills and the criminal defense lobby in the Legislature is so strong and it’s not just rhetoric. They have a lock on the Legislature and one guy in the Corner Office who is going to be of that mindset . . .
BRAUDE: He is not a defense lawyer. He has been a prosecutor and a corporate executive.
BUCKINGHAM: And he has represented criminal defense. Her point, and I thought it was a good one, is you go in there and try to change the laws, which you would think would be easy, and it’s not because you have guys whose daily job besides being in the Legislature is to defend criminals in court and they don’t want the laws to be any tougher.
BRAUDE: So you are saying she thinks, so he’s Gene O’Flaherty running for governor.
BUCKINGHAM: Yes I do.
BRAUDE: That he is going to fly off to Portugal on the drunk driving bill and only be called back when he is humiliated. I don’t buy that.
VENNOCHI: I don’t think the voters will believe that. I don’t think it’s going to be that easy to make that case, particularly in this debate with four people.
BUCKINGHAM: She did it with LaGuer. That is the problem and that’s why her ad on LaGuer was so effective. He got some letters from the guy. He read the letters and without doing a single bit of checking wrote a letter to the Parole Board. That says something about someone’s mindset.
VENNOCHI: Bob Cordy, Mark Robinson, John Silber – a whole bunch of people supported LaGuer.
SANDLER: The question is can she make that stick in a debate format? I think the answer is yes.
KEOUGH: The debate Thursday will feature two other candidates for governor.
SANDLER: We ignore Christy at our peril. By the way now she is going to lose because of Christy. He is going to get 6 percent of the vote.
KEOUGH: That is my question. His main policy point has been probably Proposition 1 that he can’t really explain. Is he just a spoiler looking to get back at those who have done him wrong from the Republican Party or does he have a point to make and is he making a point about Massachusetts being increasingly unaffordable and about both major parties being complicit in disasters like the Big Dig?
VENNOCHI: He is a spoiler but so what? He got the signatures and is on the ballot and he can’t explain Proposition 1. But one of the more effective ads in the campaign is not the one with the people looking the other way. There is one that shows a house with the property taxes on it, what they were and how they go up. The first time I saw it I thought it might have been a Patrick ad. It makes the point he tries to make that it’s not just about this rollback. I think this effort to get him to back down or to get out of the race is evidence that she is still losing.
BUCKINGHAM: I don’t know if there is an effort other than Howie Carr, who created this monster. Maybe it’s a vanity candidate; it’s a grudge match. It’s going to hurt, how much we’ll see on Election Day. Grace Ross is going to hurt on the other side.
BRAUDE: I am not sure if Christy dropped out of the race today what impact it would have. We get a lot of people on the radio call supporting Christy and a lot of them just as easily could go to Patrick as to Healey. Maybe it’s a little bit of an extra bump for her.
SANDLER: If they were with Christy, they probably should buy his message that they should loath Kerry Healey, so you have to be a little careful. He’s been pretty powerful and fairly effective attacking her.
BRAUDE: Speaking of debates, everyone knows there is a consortium debate and some from the consortium are in the room. I work for a consortium member. I know this is not going to happen but I will say it anyway – Grace Ross and Christy Mihos should voluntarily not participate in the last debate if it turns out they are in the single digits. It’s a real problem. I agree generally with Joan that if you meet the qualification etcetera. The consortium is in a tough spot because they extended the invitations and can’t withdraw them. But it’s a real problem as a viewer. You can’t get engagement between the two. Christy is always next to Kerry Healey, which is another problem. It is a real problem. Most people agree a pivotal moment in the last campaign was Tim Russert with Shannon O’Brien and Mitt Romney. We are not going to have that moment. It’d be great if in addition to all these debates there could be a way figured out that they could go one on one.
SANDLER: That’s true of tonight with lieutenant governor. Who would not want to see Murray one on one with Hillman. I would. Maybe that sounds silly. I’m just too much of a junkie I guess. It’s the final sign of addiction that you’re looking forward to Murray versus Hillman.
VENNOCHI: I think that there really should be a head to head. In a way I think Deval Patrick looks a little – this is a strong word – cowardly. He looks like he’s afraid to have a head to head.
BRAUDE: My assumption is I would argue it’s strategic. If it’s a dead heat with a week to go, he’ll all of a sudden become uncowardly, to use your expression, and decide he needs it. The reality is, despite the drop, he’s still up in double digits despite your inside thing. Why give the opponent an opportunity to go at you? My sense is if opinion leaders and the media put pressure on them in a relentless way, I don’t see how you can avoid it. The place where the media really, really fell down across the board – the fact that Steve Lynch was able to go into a primary and not debate his opponent or Bill Galvin – to endorse Galvin at the Globe and not mention that he refused to debate John Bonifaz is really, I just can’t believe in a place like Massachusetts that you can not debate your opponent. Coakley is not debating – I don’t know what his name is.
VENNOCHI: I just want to say something. It’s about me. I wrote a column about Steve Lynch not debating whatever the guy’s name was.
KEOUGH: Grace Ross, stuck at 1 percent in the polls. For her being a spoiler is something she can only aspire to. In 2002, the Greens put up a candidate who was a non-factor politically but who proved to be thoughtful and articulate and whose very presence highlighted something missing in the political dialogue. Grace Ross shows up at debates she is included in and proves to be articulate and thoughtful and her just being there, she shows the other three look at awful lot more alike than different. In the media, should we find a way to deal with this somewhat better? Poor Grace Ross – her running mate has had a Globe profile and she hasn’t. Do we take her seriously? What does it mean that the sorts of things she is talking about don’t make it into the mainstream, major party candidates?
SANDLER: You are talking about a process that is going to take decades and decades. Our media have gotten really phony. To some degree, we have not caught up with 1952, the beginning of televised debates. And with blogs, we are seeing some new media come along that perhaps can supercede a lot of the noise, misinformation and just general trouble that’s caused by the way we do it now.
VENNOCHI: The TV debates have done what the print media hasn’t done. I don’t think it’s terrible that there are four candidates, even though there hasn’t been a head to head. As for Grace Ross, she has gotten a lot of fashion advice in both the Herald and Globe.
SANDLER: Everyone is turned off. They don’t vote. They are absolutely checked out of politics. Ross makes wonderful points but doesn’t really get a hearing. An enormous amount of money is spent on completely artificial television ads that don’t actually speak to anybody, which is why more than half of them don’t vote. Things are really messed up. And I think Grace Ross is the voice of the future, the distant future. I think the blogs have something to do with it and lots of new media. But I can’t articulate it. Our political discourse looks much, much different in 200 years.
KEOUGH: The third character in this drama is the Legislature. Are we better off with a Democrat who can work with the Legislature? We have seen Healey try to give the Gang of Three treatment to Deval, focusing on his courtesy call to the Senate president and the House Speaker. Can that work again? It worked for Romney.
BUCKINGHAM: It better have legs or Kerry Healey doesn’t have a shot in hell of winning because that is her ultimate closing argument. But I also think she can and will make the argument that you can have it both ways with a Republican governor, a check on the Legislature and a governor who can work and achieve common goals. Mitt Romney didn’t get a hell of a lot done and is running on a ghost record around the country that will come back to haunt him. You can be a check and work with them.
SANDLER: As a legislative specialist, I have to say I am not rooting for anyone to win but I would like to see what happens if Deval Patrick is elected. It would be the biggest change in the power dynamic of Beacon Hill since I’ve been there and I don’t think the Legislature is going to like it at all. The spectacle of this true outsider coming into that building is really something to think about. What happens to the term veto-proof Legislature if Deval Patrick is in the Corner Office? It ain’t like electing Mike Dukakis. He served in the Legislature. It would be like electing John Silber.
BUCKINGHAM: What’s he going to veto?
SANDLER: I understand there is an ideological factor that wouldn’t play with John Silber, but pretty much during my career the dynamic has been the same – the governor has been nice but fairly irrelevant. They knew what they wanted to do, which is why they put back $500 million in spending and are pretty much $450 million in the hole. And Kerry Healey is really asking people to maintain the status quo and nobody knows what happens if Deval Patrick is elected. I don’t understand why Patrick hasn’t said, what are you going to do that everyone since Paul Cellucci hasn’t to get this tax rollback? Deval is a prospect that Sal DiMasi and Bob Travaglini are very uncomfortable with.
VENNOCHI: I do agree with that. The Gang of Three, it’s a harder case to make with Travaglini and DiMasi because they just don’t have the public recognition and standing that the other players did. She’ll just have to do an ad with the closed door, right? Saying who is behind it?
SANDLER: Let us not forget that they ran team reform in 2004. Those ads are pitched at the same people who overwhelmingly, unanimously reelected all the Democrats the Republicans were trying to dislodge. There is a real dissonance and danger with assuming that simply saying I am a Republican, vote for me, is going to be effective. Patrick is basically John Silber with much better organization. That needs to come out – how shockingly organized he was.
BUCKINGHAM: Look at his position on welfare reform. The Legislature is trying to undo whatever progress was made. That will get to his desk and he will sign it. Numerous things. Tom Menino has been fighting for this local option tax for years. That gets to his desk, he signs it. It’s all the things that haven’t got done.
BRAUDE: I agree with Ginny about Healey’s closing argument. But I don’t buy this notion that Patrick becomes governor and the floodgates open. The Democrats can override any veto now. They override every single spending veto. If they wanted to raise taxes, they could. Romney would have screamed and in their low profile way, they would raise taxes. I do not think ambition is a dirty word. Deval Patrick is 50 years old and is about to be potentially the second black American to be elected governor in this country. He is going to be a huge, huge story if he wins. The notion that he is going to be a profligate tax and spender, even if it were in the recesses of his soul, it’s preposterous. He’s young. He’s talented. He’s going to be a star if he wins, just like Mitt Romney was. I see him picking fights early on with this Legislature to say to the people I am a Democrat and respect a lot of the same goals, but I am not here to be a rubber stamp. People have the potential to be surprised, unless he’s politically suicidal.
BUCKINGHAM: They wanted to gut Melanie’s bill. They didn’t because Kerry Healey and Mitt Romney stood up and fought them on that. And on capital gains. There are things that resonate with the public and then the Republican governor has a chance to convince the legislature not to do things. That control, that lever is gone if they elect a Democrat.
VENNOCHI: They have capital gains and Melanie’s law. It gets back to the lack of a record and Romney’s disengagement. Maybe they could have had more if they and he were more engaged. People have a sense and know he just kind of took off and that works against her in a big way and makes this that much more difficult for her. People are kind of sick of Romney and tired of the guy who takes off.
BUCKINGHAM: He absolutely could have gotten tons more done. Because he dissed her so badly, because she was not a part of this administration, I don’t think people hang that around her neck as much as they could.
SANDLER: When they want to, they dismiss and ignore the Republican governor because they have the votes. If you were Deval Patrick, you could get into office and say last year you could have and didn’t pass the highway bill, the identity theft bill, auto insurance reform, the family leave bill, pass environmental justice, and pass the plan for pandemic preparation which you didn’t do. Why didn’t you do those things? If he wants to, he is free to say that and no one has made that case. Not to mention the kayak safety bill requiring kayaks to be equipped with a compass and a whistle. But listen to that list, you know half those things would cause you to keel over from liberal sugar shock. But he can say this was on your agenda and you failed to act.
BUCKINGHAM: The guy doesn’t care about any of those things. What he cares about is MCAS and workarounds. That means it won’t be the single graduation requirement anymore. That’s what the Legislature wants to. That’s going to get to his desk. It’s the big picture things. It’s going to be let’s do this together because together we can.
SANDLER: It is an unknown what the agenda is going to be. We know what we get with Kerry Healey. We get a gas tax. The Legislature will pass it, she will veto it and they will override. It’s utterly knowable what will happen if Healey gets elected.
BRAUDE: She is not going to get the tax cut because they wouldn’t give it to Romney. She already got the defeat of in-state tuition. I am trying to think of her agenda. I read her 50-item thing. It’s horrible. What exactly is her agenda that she is going to blow into the Corner Office with? I agree he is a little light on that front too, but what is her agenda on January whatever?
BUCKINGHAM: It’s mainly going to be a fiscal platform. She is not going to increase spending by 7 percent and she is going to try to cut some taxes. It’s not a bad platform to have.
KEOUGH: Could we be watching the demise of the Massachusetts Republican Party? The Green Rainbow Party has more candidates for constitutional offices. The numbers in the Legislature have dwindled steadily over the years. Are we going to play taps for the Mass GOP if Patrick is the next governor?
SANDLER: Under Ginny’s scenario, no. This election would be the best thing to happen to the Republicans. What will happen is they will so completely spend the family fund and completely bankrupt us and turn back the clock on public safety that the Republicans will start to get elected to the Legislature again. I never believe it when people predict the demise of political parties. It’s going to be a fascinating point though. What the heck are the Republicans going to do?
BRAUDE: There is no Republican Party now. You say demise. There is a governor. There was a Republican governor for 16 years. There was a veto-proof majority at the beginning of Weld but since then they put out, not to disparage individuals, witty press releases criticizing. It’s a real problem. I don’t know the solution, but one-party government is dangerous in Washington and here. When your job is not at risk, you do things that are not nearly as thoughtful and responsible as you do if your job is at risk.
BUCKINGHAM: I am not as gloom and doom. I think the Republican Party is more of a party in name only. It’s more of a coalition party in this state. It has its base, 20 to 25 percent of Democrats who are Ed King Democrats. Sixty percent of Independents who are moderate to conservative and then the small band of 12 percent Republicans. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. If Kerry Healey loses, my gut is it’s a four-year hiatus not a 20-year hiatus. There will be such a dramatic change that a legitimate candidate like a Charlie Baker can come back four years later and win the seat back. This coalition will continue on its way. .
SANDLER: I urge caution about the word never. We could be in 20 years be sitting here talking about balance in the Legislature. As everyone in this room knows, the unthinkable happens routinely.
BRAUDE: Look at some of the stars in the Republican Party. I mean this in a serious way. Ralph Martin, who I think well of supported Tom Reilly and wrote an op-ed in support of Patrick. Gloria Larson, arguably the highest profile, most powerful Republican woman . . . They are not going to win the Legislature anytime soon. I thought they when they had Malone and the governor there was potential for movement. I don’t think the grass roots comes back unless there is some serious leadership at the top. Andit can’t just be one. If Kerry Healey wins, she is the outlier. Honest Democrats would admit it’s a problem.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Where is the women’s constituency in the Republican Party? Secondly, do you think Mitt Romney really wants the Republicans to lose the seat for the sake of his national ambition? He blocked Charlie Baker and is putting the nominee in a difficult position.
BUCKINGHAM: I’ll start with the second first. Mitt’s all about Mitt. He always has been. I don’t think he’s given Kerry Healey a second thought. He is purely focused on his own campaign. More power to him. That’s what he wants to do. I don’t think he’s trying to hurt her. You can argue both ways. If it’s a Democrat as governor, all the stones are unturned. Big Dig memos may be turned out to the press and that may be a dangerous thing for Mitt Romney. On the other hand, they can blame the Democrats. Joan and I have talked about the women thing so many times. I don’t quite get it why women don’t support women on the one hand, but I guess it’s a good thing to vote the person not the gender. It’s not a special interest in that way anymore.
VENNOCHI: If we support someone just because they wore a skit, that would not be a good thing. On this particular race, she is having a tough time with women on the issues. And I think that could actually be the defining demographic that elects Deval Patrick. Today’s Globe, she has got the NRA endorsement today at a time when crime is going up and there are fewer police on the streets. She did not get the endorsement of NARAL. Now I know that the far left and liberal fringe and all that have a certain way of looking. But that sends a message to female voters and that’s tough for her right now. As far as Mitt Romney’s strategy, I don’t pretend to understand Mitt Romney. I defer to your judgement. It looks like Mitt is about Mitt. Last night you see the big unity lovefest with Clinton and Deval Patrick and the hugs and the photo on Page 1 of the Herald and the Globe. Democrats do that for each other. Right now Kerry Healey doesn’t want any hugs from Mitt Romney. That’s for sure. That thing Sunday night really hurts her.
SANDLER: The faithful in the Republican Party are working hard for Kerry Healey. She is doing what she needs to do if she is going to close this gap and win but I don’t get this sense that they are repelled by her and are not working.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: The most important thing in this campaign – Deval Patrick’s grass roots – has not been talked about. I am surprised.
SANDLER: I completely agree. That’s why I said he is John Silber with organization. It’s a true outsider running in the Democratic Party. It’s tremendously big. I am a big supporter of polls. They are just right nine times out of ten. But they can’t really measure strength of organization. The race is about who is going to show up on the seventh. The Republicans have been quite tremendous at that here and elsewhere. I suspect Patrick has the best organization since Dukakis. That should strike terror into the hearts of the Republicans.
BUCKINGHAM: My seven-year-old on the way home from school said ‘Mom, I am for Deval Patrick.’ I said why. He said everyone in Marblehead has a sign in their yard for him. I said you should be a leader and go your own way. Organization matters a lot less in the general election. Republicans can match him in terms of people power and sophistication. They have a sophisticated computer-generated targeting system. In the general it’s going to be less about that and more about he TV ads.
VENNOCHI: My son last night – he’s 17 – said he is worried about Patrick because he is not bad-ass enough.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: What’s your assessment of the brother-in-law story? Whose fingerprints were on it? Did it work or backfire?
BUCKINGHAM: I always point out that during the ‘96 campaign, John Kerry’s camp or their allies were going through Weld’s trash looking for bottles of Jack Daniels. Campaigns go low. No one should be surprised – that the candidate’s brother in law is a convicted sex offender – that that’s not going to come out in a race. It’s not relevant obviously at all. Kerry Healey made that very clear. My personal view – I have been told that it wasn’t them and I believe them because they are good friends of mine and I have worked with them on many campaigns. It would have been stupid of them. I thought her response in saying I didn’t do it and he should apologize, it sort of neutralized the issue but it but it was ugly.
BRAUDE: The Globe says it was two-page anonymous memo. Obviously if your fingerprints are on this you are in serious, serious trouble. It’s credible to think maybe it wasn’t the campaign. On balance it hurt her. His controlled rage was quite effective – that speech at the stem cell thing. People wanted to hear him angry. Having said that, I don’t know if I were in an editorial position whether I would have run it. It’s not irrelevant, as disgusting as the story is, that Patrick has spoken about the sex offender registry but didn’t know that someone who is convicted of rape out of state has to file. If you are an editor, do you say that is outweighed by the arguable irrelevance of everything else. I probably would have erred on the side of not running the story. It was a nice moment – Patrick introduced his sister and brother-in-law at the rally on Sunday and they got huge applause.
VENNOCHI: I think it hurt Kerry Healey. It kind of defies logic to think that nobody sympathetic to the Kerry Healey campaign sent out an anonymous two-page letter detailing information about this individual. It’s not, what’s been in the paper, relevant to whether Deval Patrick should be governor. The question to me would have been did Patrick interfere in some way on behalf of his brother-in-law? That would raise it to the level of need to know. I have heard, I don’t know if it’s true, that she has now pulled off her negative ads.
BUCKINGHAM: Definitely not true.
AUDIENCE RESPONSE: The talk shows defined it as a low point. It was a relatively short story. One rumor floating around was that it was information that Reilly’s people had.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: As a public school parent, a lot of what has got us to the best scores is MCAS and charter schools, things Patrick is against.
BUCKINGHAM: I would like to hear Kerry Healey talk about that Thursday night. I have a friend who is a Patrick supporter who is sending her kid to a charter school. She does not have the money to send her kid to a private school. Patrick had that opportunity to better himself and he wants to deny that opportunity to me. It’s a really important question for him to answer.
SANDLER: The people who decide the race, the independents, it is unfathomable to me that they don’t side with Healey on the issues of the MCAS and charter schools.
BRAUDE: Where is the Legislature on MCAS?
SANDLER: They’re very solid on it but it’s a point of anxiety if Deval Patrick says we need to take a second look at it.
BUCKINGHAM: The people that really fought for MCAS are no longer there, the Mark Roosevelts and the Tom Birminghams. They’re gone now. The new people, they may not be as solid. They hear about how horrible it is to teach to the test. I worry about it.
VENNOCHI: So maybe they should listen to them if the teachers think it’s terrible to teach to the test. I am not against MCAS. I don’t think there is a be all and end all. But revisiting something does not necessarily mean you are going to throw it out. On charters I agree with you.
BUCKINGHAM: On a personal side, I am new to public schools. My son is in second grade. I have a long way to go. Last year, his teacher said she was worried about his reading but he was given a test and he is up to second grade level. He came a long way in three months. I didn’t know about the test. I never was given access to the test. MCAS, at least people have something they can look at and measure. For that reason alone, it’s worth preserving.
BRAUDE: Correct me if I am wrong, no one is talking about eliminating MCAS? I have a ninth grader and a seventh grader and they both talk about how much less fun school is. They’re both good in school and love school and have a lot of curiosity but they say it’s not as much fun as it was a couple of years ago because of the kinds of things they can’t learn. Does someone have the courage to say we need to have a standardized test but it becomes part of the assessment system? The problem with the anti-MCAS people, and he is not one of them, is they don’t tell you what the alternative assessment is.
VENNOCHI: As parents, when you start looking through the backpacks and seeing the MCAS prep things coming back and realize they are spending all day just doing that, it’s not that you are saying testing is bad but you start to think that maybe it needs to be changed.
BUCKINGHAM: She should also hit harder on this merit pay issue. As parents you have seen incredible teachers. There is some power to that. We have MCAS but you can be creative and influential and you ought to be rewarded.
SANDLER: It’s not going to happen. She needs to spend all day every day attacking Deval Patrick. I am not sure that has the legs to do the damage she needs to inflict.
BUCKINGHAM: There is an argument to be made that he damage has been done and she can shift to other issues.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Central to the Patrick campaign is building a community and not alienating people. Would it not be inconsistent to his message to start being negative?
SANDLER: It might come across as hypocritical to do that but it really is a business of comparison and it’s hard to make a comparison when you don’t attack the other guy, particularly when they attack you. He has made his choice in that regard, to staying on the high road. The weird thing about the timing of this is we don’t have that next poll. We have not had a major poll since the brother-in-law story. We don’t know whether the race has solidified there. Turnout was higher than predicted in the primary. The fact is Patrick said he would bring people into the process. He got 50 percent of the vote. That is an endorsement that this is a person who can pull this off. And there is principle – he is being consistent and that’s attractive.
VENNOCHI: You don’t have to take a low road to have a spirited debate. Weld and Kerry were two very smart people debating issues. That is what is really missing in this campaign, a head to head spirited smart debating of the issues.
BUCKINGHAM: That goes back to the need for a one-on-one debate. Not a bunch of journalists asking questions, no offense. Patrick’s best moment in the last debate was his closing arguments – he talked about 700 cops laid off and a number of things. If he talked about them, he might be able to go back to his more commanding lead.
KEOUGH: One last word. Three weeks and three debates to go, what would you like to hear?
SANDLER: To some degree, I think the electorate would like to see what is the best part of Kerry Healey. If she does not communicate that, she will probably lose because she won’t be able to overcome the Christy factor, the organization factor and she needs to have a moment where people want to be led by her. We know she’s not quite as she comes across.
VENNOCHI: I don’t know that I want to see that. Three weeks seems like a long time. I am not sure I want to hear any more. Ginny made a better case for Kerry Healey than Kerry made for herself.
: I want to hear nothing from Grace Ross and Christy Mihos. People want to see a one on one debate. That Weld-Kerry thing was what politics should be, two guys who are incredibly smart going at each other. It was exhilarating. You are being cheated big time on this thing. If I was Deval, I would be doing exactly the same thing. But we are entitled to a one on one deal. I would focus hugely on the people want me to debate this guy one on one. I am available 24 hours a day.
BUCKINGHAM: We had eight Kerry-Weld debates. Kerry didn’t agree to these debates until the media pounded it. I would like to see Deval held to the standard of having to be specific about saying property taxes have to be cut. How do you do it?