By Mike Deehan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- The Massachusetts Democratic Party, hoping to keep its hold on the Corner Office after Gov. Deval Patrick departs, plans to keep the heat on expected Republican gubernatorial nominee Charlie Baker throughout the primary and general election season with a coordinated campaign leveraging Democrats' superior numbers to enhance voter turnout, two top party officials said Friday.
Democratic Party Chairman Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) and coordinating campaign committee chairman Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) echoed many of the party's criticisms of Baker's campaign and accused the former health care executive and 2010 Republican nominee of refusing to take firm stances on issues that may hurt his electoral chances.
At a roundtable discussion in Dorchester, Downing encapsulated the Democratic attacks against Baker in response to an audience question regarding the party's web and social media outreach.
"We have the ability to get the message out there when Charlie Baker says something like Hobby Lobby doesn't matter or when he trips up again or flipflops on a position on any number of different issues or puts out a plan that's just a regurgitation of thing we've done the last eight years," Downing said.
Downing said the coordinated campaign will largely consist of weekend events and field offices around the state, as well as personal appearances by party officials.
The goal, McGee said, will be to target Democratic voters who take part in presidential elections, but less often participate in midterms. "That is a known universe. It's fixed and we're trying to get to as many of them as often as we can and I think we're beyond being on pace right now to be able to do that," Downing said.
Downing said the goal of the coordinated campaign is "to make sure that the now 11 statewide candidates that we have running for the various constitutional offices have all the support they need on Sept. 10."
"We have something the Republican Party in Massachusetts doesn't have, which is a deep talent pool and a variety of candidates within our party challenging for those offices, out there, talking to Democratic primary voters in those 35 cities and town," Downing said.
In an email to the News Service, MassGOP spokeswoman Emmalee Kalmbach expressed confidence in the ability of Republicans to get out their own vote. Kalmbach said the party has over 20 field offices throughout the state and over 600,000 voter contacts.
Kalmbach also criticized McGee for refusing to comment on the verdict in the trial of former Probation Commissioner John O'Brien the day he and a colleague were found guilty of mail fraud and racketeering.
"Where did the party boss find the courage to appear in front of media? He was last seen cowardly running away with his colleagues likely to avoid self incrimination in the wake of the probation verdict," Kalmbach said.
A woman attending the meeting asked about efforts to support the ballot question to grant workers earned sick time. McGee said the enthusiasm for several of the ballot questions including earned sick time or opposition to the repeal of the gas tax' indexing to inflation, could generate more motivation for Democratic voters to come to the polls. McGee further pointed out the ballot measures could serve to distinguish between the beliefs of the candidates.
In a statement to the News Service, Baker said he thinks all employers should provide some sort of sick leave time for full-time employees, but that "we can and should be more creative than just a one-size fits all mandate." Baker said he would like to work with employers and employees to create "incentives that would achieve the goal while giving businesses some flexibility in how they do it" and that "this mandate would eliminate their existing benefit programs, such as flex time, which are valued by working parents, especially mothers." Baker goes on to say that if the ballot question passes, he would work to implement it as governor.
All three Democrats in the race support the measure. Republican Mark Fisher did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Independent Evan Falchuk told the News Service he would vote in favor of the measure, but that the Legislature "dropped the ball" by not passing a law to prevent the ballot process. "However, the ballot initiative itself is a blunt instrument for dealing with a fairly complex issue. Our legislature should be brave and capable enough to iron these issues out, without needing for things to resort to a ballot initiative." Falchuk said.
Jeff McCormick, another independent running for governor, said in a statement, "I do not support the ballot question that would bring about government mandated sick time. That should be left between the private employer and employee. At a time when we already have high taxes, high health care costs, and our economy is struggling, I believe we need to focus our efforts on growing small businesses and not creating another unfunded mandate that may further jeopardize their ability to survive."
Downing was keenly aware of the failure of Democrats to turn out voters the last time leading Democratic candidate for governor Martha Coakley was in a high profile statewide contest against former Sen. Scott Brown in 2010.
"All Scott Brown did was exactly what John McCain and Sarah Palin did in Massachusetts [in the 2008 presidential election]. But we as Democrats only got 60 percent of our vote out in that election. The more we turn our vote out, the more we have the biggest possible pool for our candidates, our candidates will win," Downing said.
The meeting was held at the offices of SEIU 1199 on Dorchester's Columbia Point. Around 25 activists and around a dozen party and campaign staff met with McGee and Downing to hear about the coordinated effort.
The meeting started less than nine hours after both senators had taken part in a late-night formal session of the Legislature where lawmakers rushed to send a number of major legislative initiatives to Gov. Patrick.
"I'm sorry if we both look a little bleary eyed," Downing said, "We were in session a little bit late at the State House doing good work. Maybe not doing it the way we should have done it, that's neither here nor there. We probably should have got a lot of it done early, but that's a discussion for a different time," Downing said.