Dr. Peter Smulowitz

Lida Harkins has stunned Needham Democratics in an interview on Wicked Local Needham, where she refused to endorse Peter Smulowitz, the winner of the Democractic Primary for Scott Brown’s Senate seat. She said she isn’t supporting Ross only because she is Chair of Needham’s Democratic Town Committee.

Harkins, a 20 year incumbent, lost to Smulowitz by a narrow margin in what is looking like a difficult election year for Democratic incumbents. Toward the end of the race, Smulowitz sent out flyers attacking Harkins controversial campaign financing, pointing out that she continues to take contributions from indicted former Speakers.

Harkins blasted Smulowitz, calling his campaign flyers ‘slanderous’ and ‘gutter politics.’ And Smulowitz countered saying his statements were factual and that it was important for voters to know and decide for themselves.

This controversy highlights a growing schism among a new wave of progressive Democratic candidates and established Democratic Party incumbents, who seem to embroiled in a constant stream of scandals and insider dealings. Three Speakers in a row, and many other legislators, have been indicted in various schemes.

Beer Diplomacy: Charlie Baker and Christy Mihos

Harkins refusal to endorse Smulowitz is part of that pattern. Normally when a candidate loses a party primary, even when that primary is contentious, will throw their enthusiastic support behind the winner. We saw that for example with Christy Mihos and Charlie Baker. Mihos is viewed by many Republican as one of the factors in Kerry Healy’s loss to Deval Patrick. After Baker managed to engineer his failure to even get into the Republican Primary last week, Baker and Mihos were quick to arrange a photo op where they are both seen enjoying a beer together. It’s a way of telling voters that while they may have had sharp differences in the primary, that the issues are not personal, and that what is important is to support ideas they have in common.

Harkins is taking it personally. During the election she told voters that she is running to support their progressive values. Now that she has lost, she is willing to put her supporter’s progressive priorities in jeopardy. It certainly makes it clearer which of these candidates really cares about Democratic values.

Peter Smulowitz is facing a tough political battle in a very short election. The Norfolk Bristol and Middlesex district is a long vertical district. The northern end in Needham is a Democratic stronghold. But the southern part of the district is among the most Republican in the state. They voted for Scott Brown by margins of over 70%. Ross is extremely popular in that part of the district, and it’s going to take a strong effort by Democrats to get Smulowitz elected.

The race has also taken on national significance. National Republicans and their supporters are crowing about Scott Brown’s victory as a sign that even in Massachusetts voters are turning against Democrats. If Ross wins in Brown’s district, it will only re-enforce that message.

Democrats have been piling on to Attorney General Martha Coakley, who lost the race to Brown. They say that Brown’s victory has nothing to do with dissatisfaction with Democrats – but only because Coakley ran a very incompetent campaign. If Smulowitz can win, it will help show that the tide is not turning against Democrats in Massachusetts.

Progressive Democratic activists from around the state have started their own independent grass roots efforts to support Smulowitz:

  • “Turn Scott Brown’s State Senate Seat Blue!” – A fast growing independent Facebook group helping raise money for Smulowitz.
  • BlueMassGroup has been posting articles about Smulowitz with links to their own fundraising efforts for Smulowitz.
  • Progressive Democratic organizer Harmony Wu, and progressive State Senator Jamie Eldridge have been working hard to raise money for Smulowitz.

Scott Brown supporting Richard Ross at Saturday's fundraiser in Attleboro

Senator Scott Brown, who used to hold this seat, has been campaigning and raising money for Ross. He has been the speaker at several Ross fundraisers, most recently on Saturday in Attleboro.

Voters are looking for change in November. Republicans have been successfully casting themselves as agents of reform. Progressive Democrats are racing to capture that message by replacing incumbents like Harkins with new progressive candidates like Smulowitz.

The question is  – can they do that in time?