UPDATED: Lesser Triumphant after Primary Squeaker…
UPDATED 9/10/14 6:35PM: For clarity, additional details since original posting, to note updated totals on the margin of victory and to update on other races settled on primary night.
EAST LONGMEADOW–Former White House aide and first time candidate Eric Lesser defeated four opponents in a Democratic primary for state senate after a two and a half hour nail biter as the lead seesawed between Lesser and Springfield City Councilor Tim Allen.
Early results showed a solid Allen lead as Springfield reported first. However as vote totals from Lesser’s Longmeadow base came in, the margin narrowed considerably. Campaign sources say Lesser held an approximate 200 vote lead with only Hampden, a wealthy outer ring suburb in the district, left to report. Lesser and his held off greeting supporters, remaining in a meeting space at Center Square Grill until confirmation of results from Hampden at about 10:30PM. That town counts ballots by hand prompting the slow return as guests waited in the bar and event space of the restaurant, located in the center of town here.
Latest results show Lesser with 32% of the vote to Allen’s 31%.
Final results showed an 54 vote Lesser lead in Hampden, bringing his overall lead to about 270 votes, although media tabulations of the results put Lesser’s margin at 198.
The campaign officially began in January when incumbent Senator Gale Candaras announced her intention to retire and seek the technically open Hampden County Registrar of Probate. Although the campaign had probably begun much earlier when Candaras leaked news of her considering the probate post. Lesser, who worked as an aide to Obama adviser David Axelrod and later served as Director of Strategic Planning for the Council of Economic advisers, joined into the race formally in February. He had been attending Harvard Law at the time (and since taken a leave), but retained his domicile in Longmeadow, where he grew up and attended public schools.
Originally, Rep. Angelo Puppolo was a lock to run, but in a surprise move, backed out prompting a flood of candidates to enter including Allen, Ludlow Selectman Aaron Saunders and Longmeadow therapist Thomas Lachiusa. Ludlow School Committee member James “Chip” Harrington had entered the race prior to Puppolo removing himself from contention.
Lesser and Allen were instantly the front runners do to Lesser’s nimble organization and Allen’s representation of Sprinfield’s highest turnout ward. Allen began putting forward campaign spending pledges, comparing them, inaccurately, to the People’s Pledge of 2012 fame. However, the race took a sudden and, arguably negative turn, when Allen challenged Lesser’s eligibility to appear on the ballot by virtue of Lesser’s time as an employee of the White House. After a hearing before the State Ballot Law Commission, Allen’s objection was dismissed and the campaign entered a detente of sorts with some sniping, but hewing closer to the issues. That ended last week when Lesser reported raising more than two times as much as the other four Democrats combined, brought a flood of missives from Lesser’s opponents that, in turn, prompted a flood of stories in the media.
Tueaday night, Harrington and Saunders conceded early, netting 25 and 8% of the vote respectively. Lachiusa carried 3% of the vote.
What, if any impact the contributions had on the race seemed minor, but lower than expected turnout shook up early estimates of candidates’ anticipated vote totals. The receipt of the Hampden results led Lesser to declare victory, although news organizations were hesitant to follow at first. That did not stop a flood of words of congratulations, including from Lesser’s old boss and from at least one of Lesser’s opponents in the race.
.Proud of Obama alums @stevekerrigan @MrMikeBlake and my old right hand man @EricLesser on big primary wins tonight!!!#yeswecan
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) September 10, 2014
Conflicting news reports suggested that Allen had conceded, but Masslive said he had in fact not done so and was considering his legal options. While par for the course in tight, contested races, Lesser’s margin would be well outside the standard half percent needed for recounts.
The New York Times had remarked in April that Obama alums such as Lesser had eschewed electoral politics, but Lesser’s win tonight makes him a notable exception, who has also won his first race. Lesser will face Republican Deb Boronski a former selectman and Mike France, an unenrolled candidate running on the America First line. In the general this November.
Lesser’s victory came on a night that cemented the Democratic party’s ticket for November, which will feature four women. Attorney General Martha Coakley, by a small margin than polls suggested, bested Treasurer Steve Grossman in the race for their party’s gubernatorial nomination. Steven Kerrigan, a longtime Democratic operative, will be her running mate. Maura Healey, a former assistant attorney general cruised to victory over former state senator Warren Tolman, while former Brookline Selectwoman Deb Goldberg captured the nomination for Treasurer. On the Republican side, Charlie Baker handily defeated tea party icon Mark Fisher.
Low turnout permeated and affected races across the region. In other legislative races, Carlos Gonzalez, the head of the Latino Chamber of Commerce, bested the two other Democrats vying to succeed Cheryl Coakley-Rivera who resigned to take a post in the courthouse earlier this year. Most prognosticators, this blog included, egg freshly splattered on their faces, incorrectly identified Gonzalez as the weakest in the 10th Hampden race, who sources say hard work belied conventional wisdom. Joining Gonzalez, barring some unforeseen upset in November, will be former City Councilor Jose Tosado, scoring a political comeback in the 9th Hampden after an unsuccessful run for mayor in 2011. In the 2nd Hampden & Hampshire Senate race, Holyoke patrolman and realtor Patrick Leahy easily beat Holyoke Fire Commissioner Chris Hopewell, earning Leahy the right to take Sen. Don Humason.
In the Hampden County District Attorney’s race, Anthony Gulluni, 34, won the Democratic nomination and with it, almost certainly, the office itself. No Republicans or Independents have filed. Up on the Bay State’s North Shore, Seth Moulton, a former marine, pulled off a stunning upset by defeating Congressman John Tierney in the primary for the 6th Congressional district. All of the commonwealth’s other congressman were either unchallenged or were renominated.