Mayor Mitchell dragged Maura Healey and Kim Driscoll to the Harbor Walk last Thursday. The photo op, with nearly all the local media in tow, was designed to give the message that the Democratic gubernatorial candidates care about New Bedford, and cities in general.
Held two days after Healey and Driscoll’s primary victories, the campaign stop was effective enough as far as these kind of dog-and-pony shows go.
Healey talked about the importance of the state government supporting the cities, and the priorities of Democratic-base voters — like building more affordable housing and operating a functioning public transportation system.
Driscoll said their team was ready to “lean in” with New Bedford to work on the same kind of stuff, and then she rattled off some words about offshore wind and new innovation as city achievements. She is very much a planned-economy policy wonk like our own New Bedford mayor.
Not on the agenda for mention by the two candidates during the city visit were some of the more liberal hallmarks of Healey’s eight-year tenure as Massachusetts attorney general. Things like her efforts to enhance background checks for gun purchases, eliminating jail sentences for non-violent drug offenders and her lawsuit against President Trump’s Muslim travel ban were nowhere to be found among the New Bedford talkng points. Those efforts may play very well in the progressive suburbs of Boston, but Healey and Driscoll know that in Gateway Cities — where good-paying jobs and adequate social services are always the highest priorities — lunch-bucket themes are the better message.
Healey and Driscoll visited New Bedford and Fall River last Thursday.
The day before they had been in Worcester and on Friday they hit Springfield. So it’s clear the Democratic ticket is going to pound the state’s blue-collar places, the kind of communities where Donald Trump has made significant inroads into Democratic working-class voters.
In the immediate wake of the primary, Healey is polling 18 percentage points ahead of the Republican gubernatorial nominee — Donald Trump acolyte Geoff Diehl. Considering that Joe Biden beat Trump by 33% in Massachusetts just two years ago, that’s a pretty good showing for Diehl, a candidate who has determinedly, if misadvisedly, clung to the former president in a state where Trump has some of his lowest popularity in the nation.
The conventional wisdom is that this race — with Healey and Driscoll as the nominees — is already over. It’s not just their wide lead in the polls; it’s that Healy has $4.7 million in campaign funds on hand while Diehl has about $16,000. Barring a catastrophic mistake by Healey, Diehl is not going to even be able to make a case against her.
Fairly or unfairly, the political analysis that the populist Republican is an extremist has already taken hold, and to be fair, the candidate has no one to blame but himself for that. Running to the right to win the Republican Party’s base, he has gone so far as to repeat President Trump’s false claim that the 2020 Presidential election was rigged.
Diehl’s only hope may be that a referendum question that would roll back the Legislature-approved law granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants could somehow catch fire against the Democrats. Certainly any number of conservative Democrats and right-leaning independents will be attracted to the seeming law-and-order attitude of the referendum, if not its bigotry.
But the Massachusetts Major Cities Chiefs of Police Association has blessed the driver’s license law, calling it necessary for law enforcement to better track who is on the roads and who is involved in serious motor vehicle accidents. The referendum, even if it should pass, is unlikely to drag the Republican past Healey and Driscoll in a Democatic state where the undocumented immigrant issue simply doesn’t play well enough to move the race to the GOP.
When the two candidates were in the city, you could not help but be struck by how much of a non-issue it was that the two Democratic candidates were both women. If Healey and Driscoll are elected, the entire elected executive leadership of the state would be female.
With Healey a popular two-term attorney general and Driscoll, a 17-year mayor of an important city, their abilities and competence are not in question. It was interesting that neither of the candidates raised women’s issues in New Bedford and no one in the media scrum even asked them about being women candidates or an all-female ticket.
That’s as good a barometer of how much political and cultural life has changed in this country over the last 50 years as any.
It’s only Sept. 15 today. There’s a long way to go in this campaign, and a state in which Scott Brown could handily defeat Martha Coakley for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010 is a state where anything is possible.
But the women who came to New Bedford last week selling moderation and hands-on ability are going to be hard to beat.
Email columnist Jack Spillane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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