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Joan Vennochi

Tripping up the politics of hope

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / January 24, 2008

ON FEB. 5, the politics of hope will be back on the Massachusetts ballot.

When it returns, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi wants voters to look at Barack Obama, see Governor Deval Patrick and vote for Hillary Clinton.

DiMasi, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, and much of the Bay State's Democratic establishment backs the former first lady in the 2008 presidential contest. Senator John F. Kerry is backing Obama; Senator Edward M. Kennedy is neutral.

To help the Clinton cause, the speaker recently drew an unflattering parallel between Obama and Patrick, an Obama supporter and fellow purveyor of hope: "To be perfectly honest, I 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," DiMasi sniped.

Welcome to Massachusetts politics, where primary day is a twofer: an opportunity to help Clinton and undercut Patrick. The speaker derailed much of Patrick's agenda during his first year in office, blocking all efforts to raise new revenue, and he's hoping to do the same in year two.

This is a local feud that DiMasi is trying to take national for obvious political reasons. But, to Clinton's advantage, the Patrick storyline does present challenges for Obama.

The language and appeal of Patrick and Obama are so similar, they are difficult to ignore. As many have noted, they both embrace phrases like "Yes we can," and both call for a "different kind of politics." They share inspirational life stories, Harvard Law degrees, and a message of nonpartisan optimism.

Patrick, the insurgent candidate, beat the Democratic establishment with grass-roots support to become the Bay State's first black governor. Obama's quest to become the Democratic presidential nominee, and then, the country's first black president, follows the same blueprint. However, while Patrick never before held elective office, Obama is serving his first term as US senator, and before that, served in the Illinois Legislature.

In Massachusetts, the gap between rhetoric and reality is clear. Without new revenue to fund new programs, Patrick can't deliver on the politics of hope. And, as far as delivering on a different kind of politics, that depends on the meaning of different. The Globe's Frank Phillips recently reported that Patrick set up "a novel political fund-raising system that allows him to skirt the state's campaign law by channeling contributions through the state Democratic Party." That in turn, allows the governor to pay off hundreds of thousands of dollars in political expenses.

In Massachusetts, voters can already measure a campaign's promise against a governor's results. The State House isn't the White House, but there are lessons to be taken from Patrick's year in office. Here, hope ran into trouble when it ran into the political establishment and failed to finesse it.

Now, that same political establishment is trying to embarrass the governor on the national political stage. With primary day moved up to Feb. 5, the Bay State's 121 delegates are something to fight over.

This is a test of Patrick's clout at home. Can his field operation help deliver Clinton Country for Obama?

Over the years, Bill and Hillary Clinton vacationed and raised millions here and their political roots run deep in the Bay State. A State House News poll released Jan. 16 put Clinton 11 points ahead of Obama.

Secretary of State William F. Galvin, the political force behind the Feb. 5 date, sees Patrick as a definite benefit to Obama. "On the other hand, the Clintons are formidable here in Massachusetts," said Galvin. "They have long-term connections in Massachusetts. They have worked people over like Menino and others."

Both sides say their field operations are geared up and ready to go.

Liz Morningstar, the Patrick political adviser who is helping to coordinate the effort to get out the Obama vote, calls it "a dash to reach as many voters as we can and earn their support."

"Massachusetts is a top priority for us. There's no question about it," said Mark Daley, Massachusetts communications director for the Clinton campaign. "We're giving a lot of resources to the state."

A press release from Daley is heavy with institutional support for Clinton: 59 state representatives, 22 state senators, four congressmen, and thousands of labor union members. It doesn't make the political heart beat with hope and inspiration.

But, after Patrick's first year in office, the establishment is hoping this time around, it has the edge.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is vennochi@globe.com.

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