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Democratic Run-Off Favors Romney

Democratic Run-Off Favors RomneyThe biggest winner of the ongoing battle among Massachusetts' five Democratic candidates for governor is likely to be Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.29.02] After months of heated campaigns, the Massachusetts Democratic Party will endorse a candidate for governor at Friday's convention in Worcester. A significant event on the road to the party's primary in September, the convention's endorsement will mark an important milestone for one of the five Democrats running for the Statehouse. But the real winner of the heated face-off, says a Tufts expert, will likely be Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

According to Tufts University political science professor Jeffrey Berry, the Democrats are faced with a late primary in mid-September, forcing them to use a great deal of their time and resources on pre-primary political battles within the party, instead of against the Republican candidate.

"Democrats will spend the summer attacking each other in what's likely to be a bitter, divisive primary with plenty of negative advertising," Berry said.

And with less than two months between the primary and the state's gubernatorial election, the Democrats will have little time to focus on Romney.

"With an 'outsider' candidate like Romney, the opposition party wants to try to define him in the voters' minds before he can present himself to the public on his own terms," Berry said. "The Democrats lose that opportunity with the late primary."

The same won't be true for the Republican, who has patiently fundraised and campaigned since he announced his candidacy in March.

"Romney -- with plenty of money available -- will have a decided advantage while the Democrats regroup and try to find more campaign funds," said the Tufts professor.

But that hasn't stopped Democrats from waging tough campaigns against each other, as they vie for the party's endorsement and a victory in September's primary.

And this week's convention will help determine the front runners.

Already, Tom Birmingham and Shannon O'Brien have emerged as the leading candidates. But State Senator Warren Tolman, businessman Steve Grossman and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich are facing tough fights to lock up votes from 15 percent of the convention's delegates -- the required amount to secure a spot on the primary ballot.

"This is probably most important for Grossman, because he's on the verge of not getting on the ballot," Berry told the Berkshire Eagle. "It's probably the least important for O'Brien because her candidacy is solid and everyone knows she's going to get on the ballot. Birmingham feels he needs to do well to propel his candidacy forward. Reich is going to play it like 'Wow, we got on the ballot and nobody expected us to.' And for Warren Tolman, it's the end of the road. That's the reality."

After making news with his battle for Clean Elections, Tolman's campaign seemed to sputter out, Berry told the MetroWest Daily News.

"He comes across as a man of integrity, commitment, and even a little passion. He exhibited all of that in the fight over Clean Elections," Berry told the newspaper, describing the former state senator. "[But] I don't think people have any recollection of what he did in the Statehouse. The amount of news on Warren Tolman -- other than Clean Elections -- is pretty slim."

In the end, Tolman wasn't able to get his campaign noticed.

"It's a crowded field," Berry told the Berkshire Eagle. "It sounds simple, but the reality is when there are five people and you're starting off with less name recognition and less money, it's hard to get noticed."

Reich's challenges stem from a different problem.

In an interview with the MetroWest Daily News, Tufts political science professor Kent Portney said Reich's views on addressing the state's budget deficit may be a tough sell to voters.

Calling for increased spending, Reich said he would consider raising taxes on everything from gas to cigarettes to support his proposed budget increases -- a stance supported by other Democrats in the race.

But Portney said Reich -- who seems to be branded more than other candidates with the tax and spend image -- may not find much support among voters for his proposals.

"He's the most liberal candidate for sure," Portney told the newspaper. "Massachusetts voters, like most other voters, are not terribly anxious to raise their own taxes."

While liberal Democrats have had a strong reputation among the state's voting population, Berry says this may be a tough election for the party's gubernatorial candidates.

"This is Massachusetts and Democrats retain some strong advantages, but campaign dynamics at this point favor Republicans," Berry said.

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