A Losing Campaign for an Office that Gets No Respect Need Not Be a Ticket to Oblivion

Friday, January 30, 2015

He was on the statewide ballot less than three months ago and already most voters have forgotten him.  He could remain forever in obscurity or emerge again in a flash to seek high office.  You can’t count him totally out.

I’m talking of course about Stephen Kerrigan of Lancaster, the most recent Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor.
There’s an old saying in politics: “When you’re out, you’re out.”  It’s meant to convey how much your life changes when you lose an election. For example:

On Monday, Nov. 3, Kerrigan was a young (43), rising star on the political horizon. Everywhere he went that day, people flattered him and laughed a little hard at his jokes for the simple reason he might be at the right hand of the next Governor.
On Wednesday, Nov. 5, he was the guy from the sticks that scraped and hustled all his life to get to the big show and had the bad luck, when he got there, to be paired with Martha Coakley. People told him a little too insistently what a great race he’d run, then said to themselves “Poor Steve” as they walked away.

Kerrigan was out.  Finished.  Forgettable. Gone.
Ditto for Martha Coakley. 

Politics is a brutal business; losing hurts badly for a long time.
Coakley and Kerrigan lost to Charlie Baker and Karyn Polito by 40,165 votes on Tuesday, Nov. 4.  If they’d managed to flip 20,083 of those votes, they’d have won.

The total number of votes in the governor election was 2,158,326, including write-ins and votes for independent and third-party candidates. One percent of that total is 21,583.
Less than 1% of the participating voters denied Coakley/Kerrigan the opportunity to govern the Commonwealth.   

The duo did very well, just not well enough.  Their defeat, nevertheless, was sufficient to end the political career of Coakley at age 61.  Due to her previous loss to Scott Brown in the special U.S. Senate election of 2010, she’s like one of those talented fighters who has lost two heavyweight championship bouts in a row.
People love you and all, but no one wants to promote your next match.

Kerrigan falls somewhere else:  he’s in the glimmer-of-hope category.
You can argue that Kerrigan has a future in politics on account of his strong showing in the September Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, where he collected just over 50% of the votes (222,562) in a three-man field.  He bested Leland Cheung, 29.3% (128,645), and Michael Lake, 19.6% (86,006).  Your argument is bolstered by Kerrigan’s 10 years on the staff of the late Ted Kennedy and his national Democratic Party credentials: he was chief of staff for Obama’s first presidential inaugural committee, and president/CEO of the committee running Obama’s second inaugural.

Those who doubt that Kerrigan has political prospects note that the only elections he has won have been for the Lancaster Board of Selectmen.  They point out that he failed miserably when trying to get elected to the House of Representatives in 2008.  Also, he has no base, they cry.  Kerrigan is from a small town in a thinly populated part of the state; he’s not a mayor, a legislator, a county official or  even a regional school committeeman.
Back to the boxing analogy. 

If Kerrigan were a boxer and you were his manager, here’s what you might be telling him now, re: making the right move at the right time:
You did great in your first major contest: 50% of the vote in a three-man election was awesome.  It showed that you can connect with all kinds of people and win their support.  Now, you could run for governor in 2018; in some respects, you’re the Democratic heir apparent, the future of the party.  But if you didn’t get the nomination, your time in statewide politics would be over, and if you won the nomination but lost the final election, your time in statewide politics would be over.  I recommend a race for sheriff or state senator, something where there’s a high probability of success.  Do well in a job like that for four or six years, and you’d be set to run statewide again, say for treasurer, auditor or secretary of state.  From there, it’s a short leap to governor.  You could be running everything in Massachusetts by the time you’re in your early-fifties!



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