Sunday, April 17, 2005

CAN DEVAL PATRICK BEAT ROMNEY?


D.R. Tucker asks me. Hell if I know. It's anyone's guess at this point.

Tucker is right that Massachusetts ain't as liberal as George Bush would have led the world to believe during the 2004 Presidential Debates (and damn Kerry for not sticking up better for the good citizens of the Commonwealth). After all, Massachusetts voters have sent Republican governors to the state house in all four elections since 1990, to which I alluded below.

The point is that Romney is defeatable, as indicated by repeated sampling of recent polling data. Being a budget-cutter is never a good position for a Governor to be in during re-election season. Doesn't win you any allies, but sure unites all your enemies.

The real question is whether Patrick can win the democratic nomination. Patrick is currently lagging in the same polls. No surprise there. The two leading contenders--Romney and Reilly--hold the state's top public offices and enjoy statewide name recognition. Private citizen Patrick does not. But it is still a good year away from 2006 primary election season. What Patrick has been doing is meeting with leaders of constituency groups, state political blocs, and financial backers. Patrick has a good chance of reining in the backing of labor leaders in Mass. While O'Reilly has been good to labor, his support is widely regarded as adequate enforcement of standards and laws--admittedly a lot more than working people get from some public officials willing to ignore or trample upon existing labor laws. But labor will likely be looking for more than just someone to enforce what's on the books.

With private sector unions dwindling below eight percent of employed workers, the unions' only growth has come from the public sector. The trend here seems to be in working with governors and legislatures to gain collective bargaining rights for workers who--though they may not be employed directly by the state--are part of the vast apparatus of private sector agents performing privatized state functions. The recent campaign to organize family child care providers in Illinois, who are paid partially by state child care vouchers awarded to low and moderate income parents, is a good example of the types of orgaizing labor unions are targeting (service jobs that can't be outsourced). Similar things have been done for home health care workers.

Labor wants someone who will push this agenda forward. And it makes for good electoral politics. Who wants to be the candidate standing against improved health care and child care services? Maybe an elite financier named for a hotel magnate, but not Patrick. Besides, Patrick's wife is also an accomplished attorney--one of the best labor lawyers in the state if not the country--whose clients include some of the largest unions in the country. Those kind of connections can only help.

By this, I do not mean to denigrate Reilly. I think he would make a fine governor for the Commonwealth. So would Patrick. The probability of unseating Romney--a lousy governor and strong potential candidate for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination--is only helped by a democratic primary campaign with a healthy choice of quality candidates. This is Democrats in Mass. as well as those who want to stop Romney here before he can leapfrog from Beacon Hill to the national stage, Patrick's candidacy is good news.

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