Seeking to boost Senator Hillary Clinton's primary chances in Massachusetts, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi yesterday criticized what he called Senator Barack Obama's lack of experience and drew an unflattering parallel to Governor Deval Patrick.
"I think Massachusetts will look at it to find out what they can see in Obama with respect to what they did with their vote for Governor Patrick," DiMasi said in response to a question. "To be perfectly honest, I really don't want my president to be in there in a learning process for the first six months to a year. It's too important."
The remarks highlighted a rivalry between Patrick and DiMasi that has mostly focused on disagreements over Patrick's policy initiatives. DiMasi clashed with the freshman governor on a number of major issues throughout 2007, posing the biggest challenge to Patrick's efforts to tighten corporate tax codes to prevent business from avoiding state taxes, win a bill licensing three casinos in the state, and pass a $1 billion stimulus bill for the state's life sciences industry.
Asked yesterday how he would judge Patrick's first year in office, DiMasi offered a laugh, and said, "I say that the Legislature did a great job."
DiMasi, who endorsed Clinton in August, made his remarks following a strategy meeting yesterday at the Omni Parker House, where legislators began laying plans for canvassing, sign-holding, and phone banking for Clinton.
Massachusetts, long a piggy bank for national candidates, has suddenly become relevant in a presidential primary for the first time in recent memory. Of the 24 states voting on Feb. 5, only four other states have more Democratic delegates.
The primary has divided the state's politicians. Those who have endorsed Clinton include DiMasi, Senate President Therese Murray, and Mayor Thomas M. Menino. Those backing Obama include Patrick, US Senator John Kerry, and US Representative Bill Delahunt.
Patrick shares with the Illinois senator a similar life story - formative years spent in Chicago and a law degree from Harvard - and political message of optimism and unity. Patrick has been stumping for Obama in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
Patrick spokesman Kyle Sullivan declined to comment.
In response last night, the Obama campaign released a statement.
"It's not surprising to hear this kind of tired attack from members of the establishment," wrote campaign spokesman Reid Cherlin. "The real risk in this election is playing the same political game with the same political players and expecting a different result."
The statement also quoted state Representative James Eldridge, of Acton, who said, "Another day, another negative attack from Senator Clinton's team. The truth is, what voters are looking for in this election is judgment."
There are 60 members of the Massachusetts House and 22 members of the Senate who have endorsed the senator from New York, DiMasi said.
"She is doing a fantastic job," DiMasi said. "She is the only candidate that I know, if elected to president of the United States, could hit the ground running."
Representative Lida E. Harkins led a delegation of Massachusetts legislators and 2,500 volunteers to campaign for Clinton in New Hampshire, knocking on 70,000 doors and helping her win the pivotal primary.
"We all feel very committed to her candidacy," said Harkins, the majority whip.
She said a delegation of New Hampshire legislators planned to help campaign in Massachusetts.
In addition to squabbling over who is endorsing whom, the candidates will also have to grapple with a campaign schedule that will bring prominence to the race while residents may be focused on a different game: the Super Bowl.
"Massachusetts people pay close attention to their sports and politics," DiMasi said. "The sports will be over hopefully with a victory on the Sunday, and the politics will come on the Tuesday."
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.