Two high-powered Democratic fund-raisers with extensive experience in Massachusetts and around the country have lined up behind Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly's probable campaign for governor, as Democrats begin to maneuver for an election that is nearly two years away.
Alan Solomont, a key fund-raiser for Senator John F. Kerry's presidential campaign, and Steven Grossman, who was Democratic National Committee chairman and Massachusetts party chairman, are cosponsoring an event for Reilly on Dec. 13.
The $500-a-ticket event, a breakfast at the Harvard Club in the Back Bay, will add several thousand dollars to Reilly's $1.7 million warchest, but, more significantly, it signals that the attorney general has picked up the endorsements of two Democratic leaders who have been the heart of vaunted fund-raising operations in Massachusetts.
''These are heavyweights," said Dan Payne, a Democratic media consultant. ''It means two of the most prolific Democratic fund-raisers in America are going to be helping Reilly raise money."
Payne noted that Reilly has a weak history in fund-raising, although he has stepped up efforts to build his account in anticipation of a possible run for governor.
''He is into a very different world of fund-raising, running for governor," Payne said, adding that Solomont and Grossman will fill in Reilly's gaps in that area.
Other Democrats considering the 2006 campaign are US Representative Michael E. Capuano, Secretary of State William F. Galvin, and former lieutenant governor candidate Chris Gabrieli.
Capuano said yesterday that he has concluded he can raise the money and build a credible campaign organization, but said the final stage of decision making is focused on his personal life. ''It is down now to whether I personally want to do it," he said.
The decision by Solomont and Grossman to back Reilly is the first significant development of the unfolding 2006 race. Reilly has not announced his candidacy, and yesterday he offered a vague statement about the fund-raisers.
''Alan and Steve are longtime friends of Tom's, and he is grateful for all their help," said Kendra Medville, a spokeswoman for the Tom Reilly Committee.
Yesterday, Solomont declined to comment on his sponsorship of the Reilly event. But in a letter inviting potential donors to the breakfast, he wrote about the reasons ''why I have agreed to help" Reilly, saying that the Democrats' defeats nationally has forced him to focus on pushing the national party's agenda on such issues as healthcare and education on the state level.
''While we think globally, we can act locally," Solomont said. He said Reilly is ''exactly the sort of practical but progressive Democrat to whom we should look for political leadership in Massachusetts."
In an interview yesterday, Grossman was more forthcoming. ''We think he would be a superb candidate for governor in 2006," Grossman said, speaking for himself and Solomont.
Grossman argued that Reilly would be able to run strongly in Middlesex County, a usually Republican area where voters remember him as the former district attorney. ''He has a profile that enables us to compete in parts of the state where we have not done well in 20 years," he said.
Even with Solomont and Grossman, Reilly will by no means have an easy path to the nomination. Solomont won praise for raising money for Kerry and the Democratic effort in 2004: $31.5 million, Democrats said, most of it from Massachusetts. But Solomont has also stumbled, falling short, for example, in fund-raising for former state senator Patricia McGovern in her unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 1998. As for Grossman, he sided with Howard Dean in the Democratic presidential primaries and then backed Kerry. Grossman dropped out early in his bid for the gubernatorial nomination in 2002.
Other Democrats eyeing the race have their own political strengths. Capuano, the former mayor of Somerville, grew up in that blue-collar city, but got an Ivy League diploma at Dartmouth. He also has a strong liberal voting record, opposing the Iraq war resolution and supporting same-sex marriage.
Galvin, who has more than $1.4 million in his political account, dropped out of the 2002 race for the nomination. He declined to comment on the governor's campaign yesterday. With a race crowded with liberal candidates, Galvin could appeal to a large bloc of moderate and conservative Democrats who make up over a third of the party's primary voters.
For his part, Reilly is considered a supporter of abortion rights, but he deeply angered gay and lesbian activists for defending a 1913 law that barred out-of- state gay couples from marrying in Massachusetts earlier this year.
Although the field of potential candidates is just forming, Democratic party leaders and activists are privately expressing concern that the party has not drawn the kind of dynamic figure who could effectively challenge Republican Governor Mitt Romney if he choses to run for reelection.
Democratic and Republican strategists say Romney's strength lies with independent and Republican voters.
One name that consistently surfaces in conversations among activists is former US representative Joseph P. Kennedy II, who was an undeclared candidate for governor in the 1998 race, but decided against running. He then decided not to run for reelection to his House seat.
For the past 14 years, Kennedy has remained an enticing candidate for some activists, but with the exception of 1998, he never made a move toward a candidacy.
''A lot of people would like him to run," said one person who has been in contact with Kennedy. ''But he is happy out of politics, so don't expect it to happen."
Kennedy's comments, however, have led many to believe he is keeping an eye on the political landscape. ''He is certainly nosing around," said a Democratic activist who knows Kennedy.
Last summer during the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Kennedy, who is running his nonprofit fuel-oil company, Citizens Energy, refused to rule out a possible run for the US Senate if John F. Kerry won the presidency.