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Regardless of who runs, geography will play an outsize role in the race. The 4th district meanders from the deeply liberal cities of Brookline and Newton to part of the conservative but Democratic blue-collar city of Fall River. The 34 municipalities in the district range from Brookline, which voted 81 percent for Barack Obama in 2008, to Wrentham, the home of Sen. Scott Brown (R), which gave him 73 percent of the vote in the 2010 special election.
Given the vastly different communities in the 4th, the open-seat race is almost certain to draw candidates with a base of support in one part of the district but not in any other parts. Without Kennedy, that is likely to mean a Democratic primary with many candidates. And it wouldn’t be unprecedented in Bay State politics. In the 1998 primary to replace the retiring Joe Kennedy in the 8th district, 10 Democrats battled for the nomination.
The then-mayor of Somerville, Mike Capuano, managed to win that race with old-fashioned shoe-leather politics. Capuano, now in his seventh term, said in an interview that the heart of his success was “door-knocking and street work.”
“I had the least amount of money of any of the major candidates by far, but I had a great organization,” he said. “Campaigns are much better done with direct voter contact: person to person. Enhanced, obviously, by a good ad, if you can afford to put an ad up, or a good Web presence, good email, all that other stuff. But it really has to be [that] the backbone is personal interaction.”
One poll taken during the 1998 race found almost half of Capuano supporters had met him.
In a parallel to what the 4th district race might look like, Capuano had a strong base of support in his hometown and won Somerville, but he managed to win the election by coming in second place in every other municipality.
To avoid conflicting with Jewish holidays, next year’s Bay State primary is scheduled for Sept. 6, a Thursday. That bodes for a low-turnout affair in which a strong ground game will be key.
Even for a Kennedy.
“It’s a mistake to think that the Kennedy name is a magic elixir,” Capuano said. “It is a great beginning, and I know this particular kid, and he’s a good, capable kid.”
But, Capuano said, if Kennedy gets in, “even he will have to do the grunt work. I guarantee that.”