Ross Wins!

Lack of Democratic Support and Divisive Primary Costs Smulowitz

Richard Ross defeated progressive newcomer Peter Smulowitz by a decisive margin.

In the best of circumstances this was going to be a tough election for Democrats to win. The sourthern part of the district is heavily Republican. Scott Brown defeated Martha Coakley here by margins of 4-1 in many places. Had the Democracts been behind Smulowitz – it would have been possible to win with a lot of hard work.

Election Results
Ross Smulowitz
Needham 2717 2495
Natick 806 986
Millis 1553 987
Franklin 736 287
Sherborn 712 615
Wrentham 1897 308
Norfolk 1480 419
Plainville 896 208
N. Attle. 2249 612
Attleboro 1067 516
Wellesley 585 733
Wayland 1195 1747

But in the aftermath of a divisive primary, Lida Harkins, a deafeated Democratic incumbent refused to endorse Smulowitz and the entire Needham Democratic establishment followed suit. By failing to support Smulowitz, the Massachusetts Democratic party virtually handed the Senate seat to Ross. It seems they would rather see an incumbent Republican take the seat than an independent progressive candidate.

Ross won all of the towns in the southern part of the district by wide margins, all Republican areas. To win Smulowitz needed to carry the Democratic towns in the Northern part of the district, like Needham, Wellesley, Natick and Wayland, by wide margins. He won three of them by narrow margins.

Most surprising, Ross won Needham, a very Democratic area. Had Harkins and the Needham selectment supported Smulowitz the result in Needham would surely have been very different. For the most part, Needham Democrats stayed home. Turnout was low. Democratic voters were turned off by political infighting and pettiness.

The results of this failure will be far reaching for the Democratic Party statewide.

First, they have handed the national Republicans tomorrow’s big story. This Senate seat, formerly held by new congressional super-star Scott Brown, went Red again, and by a wider margin. They will spin this story as Massachusetts is making a sharp turn to the right, and repudiating President Obama.

Those in the area know the truth is much different – this is all about local political infighting, and bruised egos. But the national story will gloss over all that.

Second, the Massachusetts Democratic Party has shown it really doesn’t care about its progressive voters. Democrats in the district chose a new direction for the Democratic party here – rejecting a long term incumbent – tainted by questionable campaign contributions – in favor of a new more progressive candidate. And the Democratic Party rejected the choice of its members here. Smulowitz got almost zero support from the state party, and its leaders. All the support was from a statewide grassroots network of progressive activists.

The question for the party now – where will these activists go? Will they really turn out for incumbent party Democrats who have abandoned them? Massachusetts progressives are looking at a state party who is cutting local aid to schools, and promoting casinos and slot machines. We have three speakers in a row indicted and a bunch more legislators jailed in the last few years.

Maybe the Democratic Party just doesn’t care. “Where are the progressives going to go after all?” Said one progressive activist:

“We’re the ones who always come out to help win elections. They count on us to work for their candidates. We were out here all week trying to make this happen. And when we really needed them, they didn’t do anything. I’ll always be a progressive, I’m just not sure if the Democratic Party still represents me.”

Governor Deval Patrick is deeply unpopular in the state right now, but he’s counting on a base of 35% of Democrats who will vote for him over Cahill or Baker no matter what – true hardcore progressives. But his lack of support for Smulowitz has alienated the kinds of key activists he is going to need to turn out Democratic voters in November. They will probably focus their energies exclusively on true progressive candidates now.

Who Benefits?

  • The state Republican Party. They have momentum now, and a national story. It’s going to be much easier to raise money from out of state, and to energize Republican activists.
  • Progressive Democrats like Mac D’Alessandro, who is challenging Rep. Lynch, Charles Rudnick, challenging incumbent Democratic State Sen. Cindy Creem.
  • John O’Leary, Republican running against Selectmen Denise Garlick and Jerry Wasserman. None of the Needham selectmen endorsed Smulowitz. Payback may have been a bitch to Smulowitz now, but the progressive Smulowitz supporters in Needham may now decide not to come out for them. Divisions among Needham Democrats will benefit Republican candidates here.
  • Grace Ross and Jill Stein. Progressives are looking for alternatives. They have some, and are going to be more willing to seriously consider them.

It’s gearing up to be a perfect storm for the Democratic Party in November. Shortsightedness and pettiness now are sowing seeds for the rest of the year.

Update: People have been asking, can anyone still pull papers to challenge Ross in November?

The filing deadline has passed, so no new candidates can enter. But candidates who have already pulled papers can run in November – and there are only three who have active papers – Ross, Harkins and Smulowitz. Ross of course will run again. Harkins has said she will not run again, and Smulowitz is taking some time to think about it. There are efforts by Harkins and Smulowitz supporters to convince their candidate to run again. They have until May 25th to decide.

Update: The Needham Times today asked Lida Harkins who she voted for:

“I’m not telling you that,” Harkins said when the News Service asked her.

Asked if she wanted Smulowitz to lose, Harkins replied, “I really never said that. I said that I was chair of the Democratic Town Committee and that I wasn’t going to endorse a Republican, and I’ve been busy working on other Democratic races.”

I wonder what key Democratic races were happening yesterday that the Needham Democratic Town Committee chairwoman should have been working on? Stay Classy!