^ charisma and Italian heritage plus a strong political resume make Karyn Polito a significant presence for Charlie Baker
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Voters vote for Governor, not Lieutenant governor. But were voters to focus on the subordinate part of the Governor ticket, it’d be no contest this year. Karyn Polito, Charlie Baker’s running mate, has more political clout than all four Democratic hopefuls combined.
Polito has been a Shrewsbury select-woman and was a five-term State representative. She ran statewide in 2010, for state treasurer, drawing 45 % of the vote in her losing effort. This year, as Baker’s running mate, she has raised significant money : 67,369.98 in February 2014, 181,378.96 in March, and 127,693.49 in April. She has 354,587.89 on hand as of May 1st. She also slammed the GOP convention door shut in her home area, the Worcester suburbs, on Baker’s rival, Mark Fisher. Though Fisher also lives in Shrewsbury, he drew zero — yes, zero — Shrewsbury votes at the convention to Baker’s 39.
Polito’s politics have evolved, from opposition to gay marriage and Tea Party friendly to mainstream, even somewhat progressive : today she asserts her support for marriage equality. Opponents have noted the rapidity of the shift and questioned its sincerity; but it’s what running mates always do if the “top of the ticket’ demands it. Sincere or not, it’s not easily taken back. Voters will allow a politicians’ views to evolve. They are less kind to backsliding afterwards. Committed to equality she is.
Baker has always been a civil rights progressive, and Polito is on his team. Her significance is by no means limited to money-raising. Entering a room, she turns heads, electrifies — Juliette Kayyem is her only charisma equal in this year’s election. I’ve seen it, it’s real. Polito is also the only person of Italian name — other than governor hopeful Joe Avellone — running for any statewide office this year. it matters.
Italian ethnic voting has faded plenty since 1960, when John A. Volpe used a then still huge and vibrant Italian community to win the governorship despite John Kennedy carrying Massachusetts for President by more than a million votes. Today, voters of Italian name are the grandchildren of 1960. As often as not, they are Italian in name only. Nonetheless, many do identify their Italian heritage, especially in the old Italian “heartland” on Boston’s north side and points north up Routes 28 and 1-A — and also in Worcester’s Belmont Hill neighborhood, where Volpe confidant Al Manzi once held political sway.
In these neighborhoods, Karyn Polito might as well be the governor candidate, not the running mate, given the intensity with which she is welcomed. I have seen this too — more than once.
Polito’s voters might make a difference if the governor contest is close — as it will be if Steve Grossman is the Democratic nominee. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Polito brings Baker as much as three percent of the state’s vote.
That’s because, in contrast, the four Democrats running for lieutenant governor all look B-team, even C team. Until this year I hadn’t even heard of Leland Cheung, a Cambridge City councillor, or of Steve Kerrigan, who has been a selectman in the small Worcester County town of Lancaster (and whom I’ve actually met). As for James Arena deRosa, who knew ? Not I. The fourth Democratic lieutenant governor candidate is Mike Lake. Him, I’m familiar with, more or less. In 2010 he ran for Auditor, losing to Suzanne Bump in the Democratic Primary. Lake grew up in Melrose and has enjoyed a career, so his biography tells us, with United Way and now as an executive with a city-university partnership initiative at Northeastern University. All good; and in 2010 he did have visible support among activists. Still, his resume can’t compare with Polito’s.
As for money on hand, the four Democrats look like add-ons :
Mike Lake as of May 1 had 42,935.07 cash on hand.
Leland Cheung on this date had 87,199.63 on hand and raised 5,209.63 in April.
Steve Kerrigan had 180,903.84 but raised only 9,555.00 in April
James Arena DeRosa had 20,079.71 on hand and raised 4,475.89 in April
Why didn’t more significant Democrats run for Lieutenant Governor ? Warren Tolman, for example. He’s running for attorney general but would have been a very significant candidate. But he has traveled another road.
And for Karyn Polito and her running mate that has — so far — made all the difference.
— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere
UPDATE May 8, 2014 at 11 AM: Last night, at a candidate Forum in Boston’s ward 3, I had an extensive look at three of the Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor. Read my impression of them in my new post coming this afternoon.