^ 3rd District leading contender right now : State Senator Eileen Donoghue

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The announcement by Ellen Murphy Meehan that she will not be a candidate for Congress has blown the entire race into small bits. Meehan was, by my reckoning, clearly the consensus favorite : former wife (and still good friend) of former Congressman Marty Meehan, with a base in Lowell, the city upon which the 3rd District centers, plenty of money to do the campaign the right way : she had it all.

State Senator Eileen Donoghue, who represents Lowell and towns west, now becomes the clear favorite. She was a Lowell City Councillor and then its Mayor before winning the city’s State Senate seat. Probably not even Meehan can match Donoghue’s reach at street level in Lowell. The only issue she faces personally is that at age 63 she comes late to a Congress seat in a state that usually elects Congress people for life.

Yet Lowell is not promised to Donoghue. It appears that a Meehan connected Lowell area candidate, Chelmsford resident Kathleen Trahan, will also enter the lists. Meanwhile Lawrence’s State Senator, Barbara L’Italien — who at age 56 isn’t exactly young politically — currently has that city, almost as large a vote as Lowell to herself. There has been talk of another Lawrence candidate getting into the contest, one with significant appeal in and around the city; but that candidacy has yet to materialize, leaving L’Italien to command the District’s second largest block of votes.

I am inclined to restrict the “top tier” to these two, Donoghue and L’Italien. Daniel Artrigg Koh, whom I know personally from his Boston work as Mayor Walsh’s chief of staff, has yet to demonstrate to me how he, rather than the two State Senators, can marshal many votes. Mayor Walsh has endorsed Koh, of course; but Boston is 25 miles from the District’s edge and 60 miles from its western communities. Koh is going to need local support, but whose ? He lives in Andover, a large town: but Andover is also part of Barbara L’Italien’s Senate District.

Then there’s Steve Kerrigan, who impressed many as Martha Coakley’s Lieutenant Governor campaign in 2014. I was hardly the only observer who thought that he, not Coakley, should have been the Democratic Party’s Governor candidate. (Note : I say that even though I am fully a member of Governor Baker’s team.) Kerrigan has the connections and probably the money to mount a big campaign, and he likely has an attractive message as a moderate progressive. Yet he lives in Lancaster, a small town near the western edge of the District, and in Massachusetts — where our 351 towns and cities retain a strong local impact that hasn’t changed much since the 1787 Constitution Ratification convention — a race like this one tends to be first of all a matter of where you are from. Kerrigan rises above his Lancaster location only if some issue that he can credibly speak for overrides locational considerations. I have no idea right now what such issue could be. Perhaps I have overlooked stuff, but as of today I cannot see much issues disagreement between the major candidates.

Thus right now I count Eileen Donoghue and Barbara L’Italien first and second — each with about 22,000 votes in hand — and Steve Kerrigan third at 15,000; Kathleen Trahan, if she gets into the race, at 14,000, and Daniel, Koh at 9,000. That’s 82,000 votes, which leaves maybe 40,000 votes unaccounted for (a primary turnout of 122,000 seems a good bet). Who will they go for ? Possibly other candidates — a State Representative or two, maybe. Will Methuen’s Dian DiZoglio run ? Might Rady Mom from Lowell ? We might also see former legislators enter the race: there are two prior Lowell state Senators in the stands and one from the Lawrence area, as well as former Mayors.

So far I have said nothing about Republicans. There is now a credible Republican, auto parts executive Rick Green of Pepperrell. Green chaired John Kasich’s campaign here in Massachusetts, and there is hardly a single Presidential connection more admirable right now than John Kasich. If Green campaigns on a Kasich platform — full bipartisanship in Congress, unwavering support for DACA kids, reform (but not repeal) of Obamacare — he can appeal to a clear majority of voters in our State’s most Republican-inclined Congressional District. He also has the money to make his voice heard District-wide and in depth. He is part of the Baker majority of the local GOP and has the support of its major fund-raisers and activists.

If the Democratic primary becomes nasty, even slightly, or if it veers too far to the basal left, Green can win. You might not think that any Republican has a chance to win a “blue” seat in the age of President Trump, but (1) Trump’s go-it-alone ways have made the Republican party look good in comparison, and (2) Green, as a Kasich guy, epitomizes the GOP’s good look.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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