Democratic infighting threatens other Needham Democratic candidates as well.
The election for the Norfolk Bristol and Middlesex Senate seat is just a week away. Progressive Democratic activists from around the state are working overtime to help Smulowitz win. There are call centers set up not just by the Smulowitz campaign, but by activists in Arlington and as far away as Northampton. Activists at BlueMassGroup have been raising money for Smulowitz. Katherine Adam has organized a fast growing independent facebook group to raise money for Smulowitz. Democratic super-activist Harmony Wu, a major organizer for Barack Obama, has been giving Smulowitz her full attention.
The Boston Phoenix has taken notice of the statewide support Smulowitz is getting, going so far as to call them a new progressive ‘tea party’ movement.
But it may not be enough. Smulowitz defeated 20 year incumbent Lida Harkins partly by calling her out, correctly, on some improper contributions from ‘indicted former speakers’. Harkins may not have won, but she is in a position to cost him the election. Harkins has refused to endorse Smulowitz – and as Needham Democratic Town Committee chairwoman she has been able to deny him local Democratic support. Following Harkins lead, none of the five Needham selectmen have endorsed Smulowitz.
And since the primary Harkins has been repeatedly interviewed criticizing Smulowitz at length:
“Losing is easy. Restoring your reputation is not,” Harkins said. “He went out of his way to destroy my reputation, to make me sound like Dianne Wilkerson.”
This is not the way it’s supposed to work. After a primary, candidates from the same party, due to their common interests, and with respect for the will of fellow party members are supposed to line up behind the party’s candidate.Â But with Harkins’ vocal opposition to Smulowitz, Needham Democrats are now divided, with Harkins loyalists opposed to Smulowitz, and increasingly Democratic Progressives outraged at Harkins and the Democratic Town Committee.
The race between Ross and Smulowitz would likely have been tight, but winnable for Smulowitz – especially with the statewide support he is getting from Democractic activists. It’s likely Smulowitz will lose the election now, but how he loses will be important for other Democratic candidates for the rest of the year. If Smulowitz loses by a large margin, then maybe it was never meant to be, with or without Harkins support. But if he loses by a narrow margin, then blame will be laid on Harkins, and on the entire class of centrist Democratic incumbents.
Echoes of this will be felt for example in this race’s mirror image – the race between Cynthia Creem and Charles Rudnick.
Smulowitz himself really hasn’t done enough to quell the controversy.Â In yesterday’s GateHouse news video debate, the interviewer roasted Smulowitz over not reaching out to Harkins. In it Smulowitz, who is normally a great speaker, Â is visibly uncomfortable, and isn’t really able to adequately answer the interviewer’s question. It’s difficult to watch. Maybe it’s because Smulowitz was 90 minutes late to the interview.
Since so much of Smulowitz support comes from Democratic activists from outside the district, their unhappiness with Democratic machine politics will translate into a deeper schism in the Democratic party across the state. More Democratic Progressives will abandon the chosen party candidates and focus their efforts exclusively on progressive Democratic candidates.
Who benefits from Democratic Infighting?
The big winner from all this of course is Ross -Â whose win is almost assured now – Â and Republicans statewide. And to some extent the damage may be national. Whether this Senate seat goes red or blue will affect the narrative of Scott Brown’s victory – whether it’s perceived as a fluke by a canny candidate – or a distinct movement to the right in Massachusetts politics.
To a smaller extent another winner is the Republican challenger for Harkins’ open seat, John O’Leary. Since his opponents Selectmen Garlick and Wasserman have refused to endorse Smulowitz, they too risk alienating the progressive Democratic voters they will need in September. Their position is an unenviable one. Had they endorsed Smulowitz, they would risk losing hardcore Harkins supporters.
The damage that Harkins is doing to Democratic politics just keeps on reverberating througout Needham.
Republican activists are enjoying this embarrassing spectacle. Republican pollster Jack Gately has released another video mocking Smulowitz and Harkins.
Lida Harkins political career is over. She’s doubled down and lost, and there is no coming back from this. It’s interesting that she blames Smulowitz for destroying her reputation when she is so publicly destroying it herself. When Smulowitz loses, she will permanently lose the support of the majority of voters who chose Smulowitz. There is no way she can make it back to political life – and it’s not likely she will remain Needham’s Democratic Town Committee chairwoman for much longer.
While she may be remembered fondly by some loyal Democratic voters in Needham who she has helped throughout the years, she will be remembered by state Democratic activists only as a graceless loser who put personal disappointment ahead of statewide Democratic priorities and handed the Republicans another Senate seat and a national story.