Melvin Edwards in 2012.
We have some pretty big Massachusetts political news bubbling up from the streets of Springfield, but first a quick word on Iowa. Willard Mitt Romney should have stayed away. Yes, he won by eight votes, but unlike the polls that raised up and slapped down anti-Romneys before, the effective tie Rick Santorum secured means Romney will be spending valuable time and money batting him away for weeks to come. Santorum has a heavy lift garnering money and supporters, but with Michele Bachmann out and Rick Perry effectively so, Romney will have to slog through a probable South Carolina loss and a possible a Florida defeat, too. By Michigan, he should be alright, but he will be damaged and he will still not be the best candidate to lead a fractured GOP into the general election.
Nevertheless, Democrats should remain nimble. They have spent a great deal of time sharpening their spears for Romney, but they should at least prepare for the unlikely possibility of a Santorum challenge, if for no other reason that he could be a possible Vice-Presidential nominee.
Now onto the local political fun. WMassP&I has confirmed that Springfield Ward 3 City Councilor Melvin Edwards will challenge James Welch in September’s Democratic Primary. Sources close to councilor say he will make a formal announcement within a couple of weeks. Edwards was elected in 2009 in the city’s first Ward elections in decades and was unopposed in November’s municipal elections. He was sworn in Monday for another two year term.
Although Edwards’s ward in 2009 featured meek turnout, he won with 62% of the vote. Since joining the council Edwards has usually been among the more fiscally vigilant bloc of the council. His ward, which includes the South End and Six Corners sustained heavy damage from the June tornado. Indeed, Edwards himself recounted his own harrowing experience during the twister at a council meeting following the storm. Edwards was among the early supporters of at-large Councilor Jimmy Ferrera’s bid for council president which many saw as an attempt to smooth over their otherwise less than ducky relationship. Edwards has on more than one occasion sparred with Ferrera often to the latter’s embarrassment.
The opportunity for Edwards to challenge Welch came about from redistricting. Seeking to avoid the embarrassing violations of the Voting Rights Act during redistricting after the 2000 census, Beacon Hill’s redistricting committee significantly rebuilt Welch’s district to make it minority-majority. Agawam was dropped from the district, while several minority portions of Springfield extending as far as Indian Orchard were brought in. Minority communities in Chicopee were also drawn into the district. Whiter parts of Springfield, particularly in Forest Park were deposited into Gale Candaras’ District as well.
According to other City Hall sources, Edwards had been planning to mount a challenge against Representative Ben Swan, an invincible fixture of Springfield’s African-American community for decades. Over the last ten years Swan has faced several challenges and has turned back all of them from young up and comer Lorenzo Gaines to the oft-criticized Chelan Brown. Edwards’s challenge to Swan may have met a similar fate, but redistricting scrambled the edges of Swan’s district ejecting Edwards’s precinct while preserving its historic heart in Mason Square.
While Edwards certainly faces long odds against Welch, he does face some advantages. First of all Welch is only a freshman senator, which entails less incumbent strength than usual. Second the change in the district’s complexion complicates Welch’s reelection. Forget for a moment that the district is minority majority. Thousands of people who were not in Welch’s district before are now his constituents. To them, he is not an incumbent. Finally, since Linda Melconian retired from the same seat in 2004, Springfield has not had a Senator from the city itself. That could play well to residents who may want representation closer to home.
In the same vein, the district is now Springfield heavy. Under the old map, Springfield was split about 50/50 between Welch and Candaras’ districts. With each senate district containing about 150,000 people (incidentally Springfield’s historical population over the last thirty years), Springfield was about equally weighted by its neighbors. For Welch’s district, which already included many of Springfield’s lower turnout minority communities, this weighted the influence to Agawam and West Springfield. Now with Agawam gone, the tables are turned and the district overwhelmingly consists of Springfield residents.
Edwards has also been known for gleaning considerable crossover support. Among his prominent supporters during the 2009 campaign was conservative Bill Dusty. Although Edwards had the benefit of a nonpartisan municipal election in that race, he could draw upon that appeal to draw in unaffiliated conservatives in a primary election, which will almost assuredly be a more important election than the general.
Ultimately the biggest X factor is what will turnout be. The Primary this year is bizarrely on a Thursday to avoid a conflict with a holiday. Why legislators did not simply move the date to another Tuesday is not clear, but with poor turnout on normal primary days, a Thursday election may throw off supporters from either side, but especially Edwards’s. However, with enough organization and enthusiasm could counter those additional hurdles. If he can secure that ground game and sufficient financial support we could be in for a hell of a race.