Jewish World Review April 10, 2002 / 29 Nissan, 5762

Jules Witcover

Jules Witcover
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Gubernatorial olympics in Massachusetts | BOSTON If Utah Winter Olympics kingpin Mitt Romney were a figure skater, he probably would have lost a point or two from the judges for a mild wobble in his opening performance as this year's Republican nominee for governor of Massachusetts.

Although he easily won the endorsement of the state party's convention last weekend, the 55-year-old son of one-time GOP presidential candidate George Romney earlier made himself a target of flip-flopping charges that had to be smoothed over in meetings with party leaders.

He has gotten heat, particularly in the press, first for saying he didn't intend to run for governor as long as fellow-Republican and Acting Gov. Jane Swift was seeking election, and then jumping into the race. Then he got more heat for indicating he would remain neutral in the party's competition for lieutenant governor, and then bypassing two declared candidates and anointing a choice of his own.

Finally, Romney's pick to be his running mate, Kerry Murphy Healey, was rebuffed at the state convention, winning support for lieutenant governor from fewer delegates for lieutenant governor than former state chairman James Rappaport. She will have to run against him in the GOP's Sept. 17 primary.

Swift has bowed out for governor in the face of Romney's strong fund-raising abilities. Her selected running mate, former Melrose Mayor Patrick Guerriero, subsequently also threw himself over the side after conversations with Romney, partly clearing the way for the Utah Olympics chief to pick Healey.

That move in turn earned the ire of Rappaport, like Romney a wealthy and successful businessman whose selection for the No. 2 spot Romney was said to feel would send the wrong message to voters looking for diversity in the GOP ticket.

Healey, while certainly having the right name for Massachusetts' prominently Irish electorate, has at first blush little to recommend her for the job, which gives its occupant power to run the state in the absence or resignation of the governor. Her only political credential was six months as state party chairman before Romney anointed her. She had run and lost twice for a seat in the state legislature, and although Romney denied that he picked her only because she was a female, the wise guys at the State House saw otherwise.

One of five Democratic gubernatorial candidates is State Treasurer Shannon O'Brien, whose own moniker won't hurt her in the land of Paddys and Seans. The others competing for a place in the Sept. 17 primary are Senate President Tom Birmingham, former Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich, former Democratic National Chairman Steven Grossman and former state Sen. Warren Tolman. Romney leads them all in the latest poll made public.

Picking a lieutenant governor does not, to be sure, carry the same degree of importance as selecting a vice president, which itself too often has been treated cavalierly if not irresponsibly by presidential nominees. But it won't be too surprising if Massachusetts Democrats start calling Healey a Poor Man's Dan Quayle, lacking the experience to assume the top job if destiny dictates.

Like the frequency of vice presidents taking over the Oval Office, the rise of Massachusetts lieutenant governors to the Corner Office (of the State House) has a recent history. Swift herself moved up to acting governor with all the powers when Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci resigned to become ambassador to Canada, and Cellucci himself had moved up when GOP Gov. William Weld resigned before him.

Longtime state Republican leaders like National Committeeman Ron Kaufman say Romney's early switches are mere blips on an otherwise very positive screen for a fall GOP victory against a Democratic party with a 3 to 1 voter registration lead but lacking a unifying figure. Weld agrees, saying Romney is energetic and "fresh," although he ran and lost to Sen. Ted Kennedy by 17 percentage points in 1994.

But, Kaufman says, Romney learned much from that defeat and, with his successful Olympics management behind him, will be a much better candidate this time around, not facing a Kennedy and offering himself as a "candidate of change" - although his Republican Party has held the governorship for the last 12 years.

Comment on JWR contributor Jules Witcover's column by clicking here.

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03/20/02: The allure and curse of politics
03/18/02: Political junkies convention
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03/13/02: Reconsidering presidential succession
03/11/02: Murmurs of a war protest
03/04/02: Dems question expanding, paying for the war
03/01/02: More questions about historians' credibility
02/28/02: Early warning on bio-terrorism
02/25/02: Bush rhetoric, at home and abroad
02/22/02: Strategic influence or strategic deception?
02/20/02: Challenging Gore for 2004
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02/13/02: Taking 'the Fifth'
02/11/02: Campaign finance reform showdown
02/08/02: Dems need a Truman
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02/04/02: Going after the Axis of Evil --- or not
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01/30/02: White House task force secrecy
01/25/02: A politically poisonous congressional session
01/23/02: Whither AlGore?
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10/15/01: New York: Making a comeback
10/11/01: Giuliani: Fly in the election ointment
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10/05/01: Providing your own security
10/01/01: Getting back to 'normal'
09/28/01: Muzzling the Voice Of America
09/26/01: Bush's transformation
09/24/01: Using a tragedy for a federal bailout
09/21/01: A view of tragedy at home from abroad
09/14/01: Script for AlGore's coming-out party
08/31/01: Scandal and privacy in politics
08/24/01: On replacing Helms
08/22/01: Politics takes a summer holiday
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06/22/01: The push on patients' rights
06/20/01: If you can't trust historians, how can you trust history?
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06/04/01: Memo to the Bush daughters
05/30/01: Missing in action: Democratic outrage
05/30/01: Honoring World War II vets
05/23/01: Lauding the Nixon pardon
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05/16/01: The level of public sensibility these days
05/14/01: "I am Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States"

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