Will Mass. turn purple?

(Globe Staff Photo Illustration)
By Todd Domke
September 16, 2010

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THE BAY STATE will probably remain blue (Democratic) in the 2012 presidential contest. But if the red team (Republican) wins this year’s races for governor, auditor, and treasurer, and one or more of the 10 congressional seats, the state’s political coloration will turn purplish.

Here are some of the races that will determine whether this becomes a two-party state again:

Governor. Charlie Baker, Republican, is head and shoulders above the other candidates. He’s 6 feet, 6 inches.

If this were a personality contest, Baker would not be crowned “Mr. Massachusetts.’’ But the next governor will inherit a $2 billion shortfall, and most voters realize we don’t need congeniality; we need a turnaround. As governor, Baker would be relentless in cutting spending and reforming government. He’s not just a policy wonk; he is Mr. Fix-It.

Governor Deval Patrick lags in the polls because he’s viewed as intellectual but ineffectual. For example, he took time to write a book, but not to forge consensus on casino legislation.

Patrick’s weakness is evident in his need to prop up Tim Cahill’s candidacy to split the anti-Patrick vote. And Cahill continues to be unconvincing as an independent reformer.

Auditor. The retiring state auditor, Joe DeNucci, illustrates the importance of auditing. He allegedly violated conflict-of-interest law by hiring his 75-year-old cousin as a fraud examiner, even though the cousin never completed the job application and there was no vacant position. Fraud examiner. Enjoy the irony? Good, you paid for it.

Mary Z. Connaughton, Republican, is a CPA and experienced auditor. She doesn’t have much name recognition, but she will have great middle-initial recognition. Sadly, the Z does not stand for Zorro, Zippy, or Zarathushtra. It’s just her maiden name, Zarrilli. Anyway, the Z is a great mnemonic (can never remember that word!) device.

She is running against Suzanne Bump, Democrat, a former state labor secretary. Bump is not that well known, either, and her middle initial is completely unknown.

Treasurer. Karyn Polito, Republican, is opposing Stephen Grossman, Democrat.

Polito is a state representative and supports a “No Pensions for Politicians’’ policy for newly elected lawmakers. And she’s pledged, if elected, not to take one herself.

Grossman is too wealthy to score any points for sacrificing a pension.

He is a past chairman of the Democratic State Committee and Democratic National Committee. Since Tim the Treasurer left the Democratic Party, will Grossman condemn his patronage, cronyism, and apparent pay-to-play practices? Better late than never.

Congress, 4th District. Sean Bielat, Republican, is challenging Representative Barney Frank. It’s an uphill race for the first-time candidate, but he believes Frank is “running scared.’’

A former lieutenant in the Marines, Bielat was program manager at i-Robot Corp., and reports leading a “$100 million, 100-person business line providing life-saving defense robots used to destroy roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan.’’

Barney doesn’t seem as visionary, having declared in 2003 that mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “are not facing any kind of financial crisis.’’

This will be a high-profile race, covered nationally. And in a “wave election’’ year, when polls show that most voters prefer “a new person’’ to represent them in Congress, it could be an upset. Barney will be upset if it’s even close.

Congress, 5th District. Democratic Representative Niki Tsongas of Lowell is not considered an “entrenched’’ incumbent because she was only recently elected, in a 2007 special, with 52 percent. She then ran unopposed in 2008.

Scott Brown won 57 percent in this district. That heartens Tsongas’s GOP opponent, Jon Golnik, a conservative small businessman. Like most challengers, he’s behind in fundraising and needs the national GOP to help him make up for Tsongas’s tax-paid advantages in staff, public relations, and mailings.

Congress, 7th District. Representative Ed Markey has not faced a tough challenge in a long time, but he has a credible opponent in Dr. Gerry Dembrowski, a chiropractic primary care physician and small business owner.

Dembrowski used to play semipro hockey. Even if Markey isn’t on thin ice, he prefers the good ol’ days when entrenched incumbents didn’t have to worry about serious opponents and angry voters. And if Markey loses, well, he’ll probably turn purple.

Todd Domke is a public relations strategist, author, and Republican political analyst for WBUR radio.

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