Analysis: Campaign Mortal Kombat or Senate Silly Season…
UPDATED 11:35PM For grammar.
The race to replace Gale Candaras in the 1st Hampden & Hampshire Senate seat has had its high and low moments. With three quarters or more of race taking place in the primary, it is unsurprising that both the best and the worst took place during the contest for the Democratic nomination. Well that was true until this week and it suggests a troubling turn as the race enters its final phase.
Democrat Eric Lesser, Republican Debra Boronski and Mike Franco, an independent running on the America First line, are battling for the open senate seat. While Boronski was unopposed in her primary and Franco was guaranteed general election ballot access, Lesser gained his party’s nomination only after a hard-fought race that went down to the wire.
While the potshots taken by his fellow Democrats took up the lion’s share of the media’s attention and a disproportionate amount of the primary’s time, there was a great deal of substance among the five Dems. Contrasts existed and some candidates introduced different issues into the race.
Lesser’s campaign apparently made the decision early on to maintain a consistent posture from the primary (where the left and right of parties can dominate) to the general election, avoiding the painful gyrations campaigns can experience after a primary. Seniors, economic development, homeless in hotels and transportation—unless you view subsidizing both cars and rail versus subsidizing only cars as a choice between collectivist tyranny and individualistic nirvana—cut across typical right-left politics. Lesser, already running on issues that appeal to the middle did not to shift himself there.
The general, sadly, has thus far had all of the discord and little of the debate. This stark reality came into being last week when the Boronski campaign made a salacious and odd charge about Lesser. Citing a Harvard Crimson column he wrote while working in the White House, Boronski claimed Lesser admitted to breaking into a carwash after hours. Reading the line in full context it is quite clear the only admission here is Boronski’s failure to grasp satire and rhetorical flourish.
Maybe this was an attempt to knock Lesser for going to Harvard, that den of iniquity so reviled it is ensconced in the state constitution. This, too, seems odd. Beating up on the Ivy League is a fun extracurricular activity in conservative circles, yet this ignores the fact that most people, if they could afford it, would kill to send their kids to Harvard or Yale. This district is heavily suburban and if Boronski is trying to stoke feelings of Ivy League snobbery, she probably does not have her finger on the pulse of Belchertown, East Longmeadow, Granby, Longmeadow, Ludlow and Minnechaug high school parents, let alone those parents in the less wealthy quarters of Chicopee and Springfield.
The result has been a campaign that looks like the primary on Lesser’s end—maintaining the focus on the same priorities—answered by Boronski who is offering only vague agreement that something must be done about this or that. What prescriptions that do exist are either near word for word complaints from conservative candidates for other nearby offices or little more than nebulous talking points. Franco offers himself as an alternative—if the far right one—castigating Boronski and Lesser for bickering.
Ron Chimelis in The Republican, too, chastised the two major candidate for not engaging on the issues, but he seemed to indicate Boronski is closer to jumping the shark. Actual issues that affect people’s life are paramount, but they often lack enough panache for media to cover when other nonsense interrupts. Questions of candidates’ worthiness to serve is fair game. Misinterpreting a simple motivational comment, however, is an entirely different matter.
But this turn of events also tells us something about the state of race. While the commentariat claimed Boronski’s release came early last week, it came after a story that Boronski failed to properly disclose her political contributions as a lobbyist. One of these stories is not like the other. One is at best an oversight or at worst reckless disregard for compliance law. The other is, well, bizarre. This tactic is several steps below harping about Lesser’s prodigious pre-primary fundraising (an attack which we long ago declared to be little more than sweet, sweet cow excrement and Chimelis likewise calls the complaint little more than “pure-envy”).
The decision betrays broader concerns within the Boronski camp. The half-term former East Longmeadow selectwoman is coming perilously close to the limit she can lend to her own campaign. Through the August 22 reporting period, Boronski lent herself about $26,000. The statutory cap she can lend herself is $50,000 per election. Unless she starts burning cash directly with no chance of repaying herself—a decision which could be problematic for other reasons—Boronski faces some trouble ahead.
Her supporters are not helping either. Until she began peddling the excerpt from the Crimson, Lesser’s finances were her default offense/defense. Last week, Springfield City Councilor Tim Rooke trashed Lesser for spending much of the funds he raised by the time the report was filed. Specifically, Rooke said that if Boronski had raised such sums, she would not have spent as much of it. An irony escaped him though. In fact, by percentage Boronski did exactly that, spending slightly more of her funds than Lesser did—and she was unopposed in the Republican primary. Lesser, in his primary, was very much opposed.
The Lesser camp is hardly flippant about the race, but any signs of panic or grasping at straws are absent. There has been some fence-mending, some holding of hands among Dems who supported the other guys and some surrogate appearances. But really, Lesser is doing what he was doing before: meeting voters, attending events, making calls and knocking doors. There have been jabs at Boronski, but none of them have really been out there.
It was generally accepted that Tim Allen’s decision to challenge Eric Lesser eligibility—at heart an attempt to de-Pioneer Valley-ify Lesser—hurt Allen. Whether it actually did is unknown, but he both had time to recover and nothing really piled on thereafter, perhaps cauterizing the wound. Politicos will debate for years whether it lost him the primary or had no impact whatsoever.
Both candidates lack time as a buffer against missteps, but right now if anybody is bleeding it may be Boronski. Overeager attacks can be just as dangerous as poor defense and can expose other issues. Either way, she cannot afford to take on water now. When you drill holes in the bottom of a ship’s hull, make sure it is not your own.
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