Picture a Northeastern state whose politics are dominated by a creaking, mammoth hulk of a Democratic Party, has voted for Democrats in most modern presidential elections, has two Democratic U.S. Senators, but has not elected a Democrat governor since 1986.
I'm talking, of course, about Massachusetts, our neighbor to the north. Believe it or not, Michael Dukakis was the last Democrat to be governor of Massachusetts, even though Democrats hold huge majorities in their state legislature and their entire Congressional delegation is Democratic.
Now, with unpopular Republican Governor Mitt Romney leaving to run what is certain to be an awkward and ultimately fruitless presidential campaign, Democrats think they may have their best chance in years to win back the governor's mansion. Attorney General Tom Reilly has been the odds-on favorite to win the nomination, despite the upstart campaign of Deval Patrick. Recent polls showed Reilly with a huge lead over Patrick, despite his running-mate's recent withdrawl because of delinquent tax payments.
Last night, something interesting happened. In Massachusetts, delegates to the state party conventions are partly selected through caucuses. In what has to be a surprise for Massachusetts's Democratic establishment, Deval Patrick won 2/3 of those delegates. Both men will still likely be on the primary ballot, but Patrick will almost certainly win the convention. Wow. Blue Mass Group has some interesting commentary (Massachusetts, by the way, has a great political blogosphere).
So who cares? It may just be a function of my sitting in Massachusetts to type this, but I can't ignore the similarities between our states. Of course, our governor's race isn't nearly as interesting, given that we don't have an open seat and that the popularity of the current occupant has scared away prominent Democrats like Richard Blumenthal. However, our Senate race may be.
Aldon Hynes draws some comparisons between the Lamont and the Patrick campaign on his site. There are some interesting similarities, such as the fact that Reilly is not popular with the grassroots of his party, and that he tends to take more conservative stances than most Democrats care for. He has been running towards the center and ignoring his base, while Patrick has been taking great pains to cultivate that base. Patrick has also attracted attention nationally, garnering the support of Sen. Barack Obama, among others.
There are differences. The Lamont campaign is still in its infancy, and may amount to nothing. Lamont hasn't actually won anything yet--he hasn't even officially decided whether or not to run (hint: he's running)--whereas Patrick has taken huge strides towards legitimacy this weekend.
Both campaigns offer the same hope to liberals, that they can run against the establishment of their own party and win.
Whether or not decamping from the still-significant portion of the center that they still hold and moving aggresively to the left is wise for Democrats remains to be seen. If either Patrick or Lamont win in the primary, they will face a far different and much more difficult challenge to win in November.