Maura Shealey, Massachusetts Attorney General, was elected the Democratic nominee for Massachusetts governor. Tuesday’s win comes after months of clearing the field.
Big? Sure. And more on what Healey’s political future might look like below. Her win wasn’t the only headline from Boston Tuesday on Democratic issues.
Instead, it was the slow-boil drama about Healey’s running mate that kept Bay State insiders humming with the slightest uncertainty. That’s because one candidate in the lieutenant governor race had the state’s party leaders behind her, and the other had the clear backing of Barack Obama.
It was scarcely a secret that the Massachusetts Democratic Party favored Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll as a running mate for Healey, over state senator Eric Lesser, a 30-something idealist who got his start working on Obama’s first campaign even before graduating from college.
Both candidates had their own appeals to the party base in Massachusetts, even if there wasn’t a ton of daylight between them, or with state Rep. Tami Gouveia who placed a distant third. Driscoll ran as an insider who was steady and fair, and would be able to help Healey win support from female voters. The Healey/Driscoll ticket marks the first ever time that Massachusetts voters have elected an all-female governor-and-lieutenant governor team. Lesser, meanwhile, was a technocrat’s dream candidate, a former West Wing aide who worked on economic policy after graduating from his roles as human answering machine and one-man luggage manager.
[A needed disclosure and background: I have been friendly with Lesser for 15 years, dating to our mutual days traipsing through New Hampshire at the start of Obama’s nascent bid. I am not unique in that regard among the press corps. In the White House, Lesser was the gatekeeper for Obama alter-ego David Axelrod, who hosted fundraisers for his former aide.]
Healey however, remained publicly neutral. Driscoll, however, won endorsement from the state party convention and became immediately the man to beat. Lesser had seen the play before; after all, the unofficial posture of the Democratic Party in 2008 was that it was Hillary Clinton’s nomination to lose, until Obama’s team short-circuited that conventional wisdom.
An Obamaesque campaign to come from behind is still a rare achievement. And while the Obama alumni network came out in force and helped Lesser stay competitive in the money race, it couldn’t match the power of a state political machine or an outside super PAC powered, in part, with Republican developers’ dollars. Even Lesser landing the coveted status symbol of a photo-op walking and chatting with his former top boss in Martha’s Vineyard wasn’t enough to spook the state party.
But while the lieutenant governor race stoked plenty of drama, Healey’s glide path to her party’s nomination is teeing up different conversations.
There is an open race in Massachusetts for Governor this year. After ex-President Donald Trump supported Geoff Diehl as his primary challenger on Tuesday night, Charlie Baker, the Republican incumbent, chose to exit. This was the same as Maryland’s governor. Larry Hogan’s choice to bypass another election. Arizona Governor is the same. Doug Ducey. The trio chose to live simpler lives than fighting the MAGA Movement.
With Diehl as the nominee, Massachusetts is one of the Democratic Party’s ripest chances to reduce their deficit in governorships. While Republicans currently have six seats more than Democrats, Trump-like GOP nominees in several states make that figure a little uncertain. Democratic meddling to boost perceived extremists hasn’t hurt, either. (Unless those extremeists win.
Healey’s now expected to win in the fall, raising new questions about her future. Few political insiders credibly think Healey’s political career ends on Beacon Hill, and it’s entirely possible she could eventually be plucked for a federal posting. She’s been on the forefront of gun violence prevention for years, sued the Donald Trump administration almost 100 times, and has a turnkey LGBTQ fundraising advantage nationally that is potentially second only to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
And bear in mind: the governor’s office in Boston isn’t a terrible launching pad for a presidential run: of the last six CEOs of Massachusetts, four have sought the White House. Two—Michael Dukakis and Mitt Romney—captured the nomination. Both were not victorious.
Three of the four potential presidential candidates were white men, while all four were straight. A lesbian trailblazer and a strong donor Rolodex might be very appealing to a Democratic Party seeking change. Massachusetts Democrats are betting this isn’t Healey’s last act. And, quietly, the most popular Democrat in the country—who has an estate on Martha’s Vineyard—suspects Lesser’s final act isn’t written, either.
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