The Hometown Hero

Kerry’s Ties to Boston Add ‘Excitement’ to Convention, But Also Create Problems

Posted March 8, 2004 at 9:06am

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s Super Tuesday triumph in the presidential race ensured that for the first time since 1956 the Democratic nominee will receive the party’s official backing in his hometown.

Kerry’s back-from-the-dead run to the nomination presents convention planners with myriad opportunities to take advantage of his native son status, said convention Communications Director Peggy Wilhide.

“It adds an extra level of excitement, energy and enthusiasm around the convention,” she said. “We are seeing a spirit of cooperation, community involvement and support as a direct result of his ties here.”

Rhetoric aside, those familiar with the planning of the July 26-29 Democratic National Convention in Boston say that few specifics have been outlined to capitalize on Kerry as the nominee but that there are a variety of advantages to the event being in his political backyard.

Perhaps most importantly, Kerry’s long political roots in the state ensure that many of the turf battles that typically hamstring a convention are likely to be reduced.

Democratic consultant Jenny Backus said Kerry’s cadre of Massachusetts political operatives will help remove many of the hassles experienced with then-Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan (R) during the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

“It is helpful to have a nominee from the state to break through the political logjams in a way we didn’t with Riordan,” she said.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (D) is strongly supporting the convention. Wilhide said Menino has been “an outstanding partner from day one.”

Kerry appointed longtime Boston consultant Jack Corrigan to serve as his liaison to the convention last week, a move widely praised by Democratic operatives.

Corrigan carries significant sway in Boston politics and has close ties to the Dewey Square Group, another Boston-based consulting firm with strong links to Kerry. Dewey Square partners Michael Whouley and Jill Alper are both senior advisers to the Kerry campaign.

Former Al Gore aide Rod O’Connor is the convention chief of staff — a role he also played in 2000.

Kerry’s Massachusetts roots will also be helpful in raising money for the convention, because he has the ability to tap a group of familiar donors that have given to his past Senate runs.

Convention organizers said earlier this month that the host committee is still $7 million short of the $65 million budget.

That total includes $25 million in federal security funds allocated by Congress with the remaining $40 million coming from private individuals and in-kind contributions.

An additional $15 million is provided by the federal government for setting up the convention; that money may be spent on a wide variety of tasks but cannot be used to promote the nominee.

The least tangible positive aspect of Kerry assuming the party mantle in Boston is the ability to tap into the city’s political predecessors extending back to John F. Kennedy, the last Senator to be elected to the presidency.

President Kennedy’s youngest brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), is Kerry’s most high-profile Congressional supporter and played a lead role in securing the convention for Boston.

Tapping into that political legacy provides invaluable political imagery: Since Kennedy’s 1960 win, Democratic candidates for president have regularly cited him as their inspiration for running for higher office.

And, the Bay State has a long history of producing presidential candidates. Starting with Kennedy in 1960, every Massachusetts Democratic Senator has run for president. That includes Edward Kennedy’s 1980 primary challenge to President Jimmy Carter and former Sen. Paul Tsongas’ 1992 presidential bid.

The only nominee produced from Massachusetts since 1960 was then-Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1988; he went on to lose the general election to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

Some Democrats note that the staging of the event in Massachusetts is not likely to be an unvarnished boon for the Kerry campaign, however.

Not only will it remind voters nationwide of Kerry’s strong connections to the Northeast, but the recent legalization of same-sex marriages by the state’s Supreme Court could also tarnish Kerry’s image as a centrist, strategists worry.

A look at history shows that a candidate being formally crowned the party’s presidential nominee in his hometown is not typically a recipe for success.

Since Abraham Lincoln won the GOP nod in Chicago in 1860, Republican and Democratic presidential candidates have been nominated at party conventions in their home states six times.

Two of those candidates won the presidency in November — Ulysses S. Grant (R-Ill.) in 1868 and Rutherford B. Hayes (R-Ohio) in 1876.

In the other four instances — Horatio Seymour (D-N.Y.) in 1868, Adlai Stevenson (D-Ill.) in 1952 and 1956 and George H.W. Bush (R-Texas) in 1992 — the candidate went on to lose the general election.

There are other more light-hearted benefits to the convention being in Boston, such as a three-game series July 23-25 between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. That is due in no small part to Red Sox owner John Henry’s presence on the Boston site-selection committee.

Picking up the sports theme, Kerry senior adviser Michael Meehan compared a Boston convention with a Massachusetts Senator as the nominee to “a blend of the Patriots winning the Super Bowl and the Red Sox winning the World Series.”

And, Meehan added: “It will be held for four fun-loving days at the center of the universe — Boston.”

Ben Pershing contributed to this report.