It’s not surprising to see former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn endorse the reelection of Senator Scott Brown: he supported Brown in 2010 and defended Brown’s vote for the Blunt Amendment. If it’s not a surprise, is it a harbinger?
Could be. Brown reminds me more of Paul Cellucci than Mitt Romney: a Republican who is comfortable around Democratic politicos, is personally popular among some rank and file Democrats, and has crossover appeal. Cellucci did well enough among the Reagan Democrats–unionized urban voters who tend to be socially conservative and sometimes fiscally moderate or progressive–to win in 1998. And the Cellucci model for victory is the one that Brown will want to study. Flynn figures into the Cellucci win and may figure into a Brown victory marginally. But marginally may be enough.
There are two reason why Flynn’s endorsement won’t lead today’s political news:
First, Flynn has a history of making nice with Republicans. He famously showed up with Acting Governor Paul Cellucci at JJ Foley’s in Jamaica Plain in the heat of the 1998 gubernatorial election, snubbing his own party’s nominee, Scott Harshbarger. In 2000 he endorsed Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore. He has a history of endorsing GOP candidates.
Second, it’s also been a long time since he’s showed any electoral strength in the state. He left the Mayor’s office to become Ambassador to the Vatican in 1993. He returned home and considered a run for Governor in 1998 but moved to run for the congressional seat being vacated that year by Joe Kennedy. Flynn came in second in a very crowded field, winning 17% of the vote and losing to current member of Congress Mike Capuano. It was his last attempt at elected office.
And yet, Flynn might be able to aid Brown in the areas where he’ll need the most help: in the urban, conservative cities where Brown must pick up enough votes to hold Warren to a close margin. These are cities like Worcester where 72% of the population identifies as Catholic and which Cellucci just barely lost in 1998. It’s not happenstance that Brown launched his reelection there. Other cities like Fall River, Methuen, North Adams, New Bedford, Fitchburg, and Everett will see Brown a lot. Cellucci did well enough among Reagan Democrats in those cities to help overcome Harshbarger state-wide.
Flynn is only a harbinger if he still speaks for enough Reagan Democrats to keep Brown competitive. Add sitting mayors or three willing to endorse Brown, then “disaster whispered here.”
Still, 2012 is, as my colleague Professor Duquette has pointed out, not a gubernatorial year. It’s a presidential election when turnout will play a key role and this will benefit President Obama and Democrats seeking to retake the seat of Ted Kennedy. And Warren has a compelling personal and professional biography that is going to make efforts to paint her as an out of touch elitist a bit more difficult than her detractors believe. Her narrative can appeal to Reagan Democrats as well and the fight for this all important swing vote is where the action will be. So far we have in Brown’s corner two Boston Mayors: a sitting one whose response to the Warren candidacy has been lethargic at best and a former one with a history of voting for Republicans. The early spring round in the fight for Reagan Democrats goes to Brown.