Disclosure: From August 2007 through February 2008 I was a consultant on the Ed O’Reilly campaign.
Because Massachusetts consistently ranks last-but-one in the nation for contested elections, I decided to support Senator John Kerry’s challenger. But over the last few weeks I’ve experienced a profound reality check, and it has to do with the presidential election. Hard as it is to believe here in Massachusetts, the next President of the United States could be John McCain.
What does this have to do with John Kerry? Well, I think that our rough’n'tumble, iconoclastic approach to politics in Massachusetts (a healthy thing, generally) tends to cloud an important fact: Our junior senator is a significant electoral asset to the Democratic party nationwide.
Lately I’ve been casting my mind back to the last presidential election, when John Kerry was our party’s nominee. I wasn’t in a position to campaign for him out of state (where it mattered) because I had my own contest here at home. In September 2004, I won the Democratic primary for Governor’s Council in Western Massachusetts. After the primary, all of us on the Vickery team wanted to spread out and get to work in the swing states. But we couldn’t. We had to fend off a general election challenger — from within our own party!
My general election opponent was an ex-Democrat running with the open support of several elected Democratic officials. And he had more money than we did. So in stead of campaigning in New Hampshire and further afield, we stayed in Western Mass. We saw off the challenger, but at the same time we watched the Bush-Cheney gang secure another four years in the White House.
Did the absence of a handful of Democratic activists from Western Mass lose us the 2004 presidential election? Of course not. But could we have made a small difference here and there? Maybe. Could John Kerry make a difference here and there in November 2008? The answer to that is clear; yes, beyond all reasonable doubt.
Bush, Cheney & McCain aren’t waiting for us. The presidential election campaign does not start in September, after the Massachusetts Democratic primary. It has already started. And judging by past races, the outcome of the 2008 election may be decided between now and September.
So where do we want John Kerry to spend that time — here in Massachusetts, where his victory in a putative primary is all but a foregone conclusion, or in battleground states fighting to keep John McCain out of the White House and fighting to bring our troops home from Iraq? I choose Option 2.
Reluctant as I am to part company with my friends in Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), I no longer see any legitimate purpose in forcing a contested senatorial primary. Nobody has any doubt that the winner of that primary would be John Kerry (and rightly so). So the question is not “why not just give the other guy a chance?” In fact, the question for progressives is this: How can we justify keeping John Kerry in Massachusetts in stead of letting him campaign nationwide for a Democratic presidential victory?
So if you’re thinking of using your vote at the Lowell convention to send John Kerry a message — that he needs to earn your support in stead of taking it for granted — please think again. Your message has already arrived. It’s been received, understood, and acted upon. Now let’s get back together and win the fight that really matters; the fight for the White House.