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O'Brien Wins Primary

O'Brien Wins PrimaryShannon O'Brien's wide appeal - and her campaign's strong start - gave her the edge in Tuesday's Democratic Primary for Governor, says a Tufts expert.

Boston [09.18.02] When the ballots were counted on Tuesday, Massachusetts State Treasurer Shannon O'Brien emerged from a crowded and competitive field of candidates to win the Democratic Primary for Governor. Her broad appeal - coupled with her campaign's strong start - made her a tough candidate to beat, say Tufts political science experts.

"In the most expensive statewide primary ever in Massachusetts, O'Brien won 33 percent of the vote to beat Thomas Birmingham, the State Senate president, for Labor Secretary Robert Reich and former State Senator Warren Tolman," reported the New York Times.

A seasoned politician who was an athlete in college, O'Brien did an excellent job managing her perception among voters, Tufts' James Glaser told the Times. She'll face Republican candidate Mitt Romney in November.

"I don't think that she's tagged with some of the problems that women candidates are up against," Glaser - who chairs the University's political science department - told the Times. "She has a reputation for being a tough cookie, [which was boosted by] all those pictures of her playing rugby and soccer."

Tufts' Jeffrey Berry - who also teaches political science at Tufts - agrees, telling the Christian Science Monitor that O'Brien handled the competitive field well by being "feisty without being abrasive."

"[The Tufts expert said] she's the kind of woman soccer moms and waitress moms relate to," reported the Monitor. "Success among women could make her 'the freshest new female face in the nation,' he says."

O'Brien also put together a strong campaign, which gave her an early lead that quickly set her apart from the other candidates.

"If you compare it to a horse race, then you'd have to say that O'Brien took an early lead and has maintained it," Berry told the Sentinel and Enterprise a few days before the primary. "The horses may be a little closer in the final stretch, but it's really been a stable race all along."

Only Warren Tolman - who was often depicted as an underdog - was able to manage a bump in support, Berry said in an interview with The Boston Globe.

"He noted that other than Tolman - whose poll numbers started in the low single digits before a recent advertising blitz - none of the candidates have moved significantly from where they were in polls six months ago," reported the Globe.

With such a crowded field, the trailing candidates spent a lot of time trying to distinguish themselves from their opponents.

Birmingham - who served on Beacon Hill as the state's Senate President - had trouble gaining broad support, said Glaser.

"Being a Boston politician, it makes it very difficult for him to penetrate outside the city," Glaser told the Union News.

And his role in state government often came under attack by other candidates.

"I think, in a state where the average voter sees the state legislature as a group of cartoonish figures at best and dishonest at worst, he can't escape that," Berry told the Standard Times.

Tolman - who tried to depict himself as the only reform candidate in the field - may have relied too heavily on his pledge to refuse all special-interest money to win votes, Berry told the Sentinel and Enterprise.

"People are for campaign finance reform, but they don't feel strongly about it," the Tufts political science professor told the newspaper. "It tends not to translate into votes."

For Reich, the issue of taxes appears to have cost him much-needed support.

"Like other Democrats in the race, Reich has called for slightly raising the gas tax and postponing a cut in the income tax," reported the Providence Journal. "But the tax-and-spend image seems to stick to Reich more than his opponents."

And it can cost a candidate important votes.

"Massachusetts voters - like most other voters - are not terribly anxious to raise their own taxes," Tufts political science professor Kent Portney told the Journal.

While some political experts worry about the potential negative impact of the primary race on O'Brien's bid for the State House, Berry told the Associated Press that these types of elections are a good sign about the health of politics in Massachusetts.

"People often complain about the democratic process, but this was an example of it working, and working well," he told the Associated Press.

Photos courtesy shannonobrien.com

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