HOWEVER, ALL is not bleak for O’Brien. The state treasurer’s advocates say that her natural advantages may offset her financial difficulties. As the emerging front-runner, for example, O’Brien can appeal to the likelihood that she will be the eventual nominee. She can also rely, in part, on the fact that her status as the only woman in the Democratic field will win her support from special-interest groups such as EMILY’s List, a national group that raises money for pro-choice and Democratic women, and its Massachusetts equivalent, GEM’s List. O’Brien took into account this political support as early as 1999 when weighing her decision to run. The presence of EMILY’s List, in fact, will be felt at a December 5 fundraiser for O’Brien when the organization’s president, Ellen Malcolm, will travel to Boston to be the guest speaker. Burgess won’t say how much she expects to raise at the event, other than to describe it as a "major" fundraiser.
While O’Brien will certainly capture a portion of feminist special-interest money, the luster of a candidacy fueled by such groups has diminished since last year, particularly in the wake of State Senator Cheryl Jacques’s (D-Needham) failed bid for Congress. Jacques, who started the race late with a huge financial hurdle, relied heavily on pro-choice groups such as the National Abortion Rights Action League and women’s groups such as EMILY’s List for funding and support. As a consequence, Jacques ended up devoting too much time, energy, and money to the issue of abortion and not enough to building her local recognition. That’s not to say that O’Brien shouldn’t seek the support of these groups. She can draw on their financial help without letting them hijack her campaign with excessive interference.
That said, O’Brien has already run twice for statewide office and is likely to avoid the mistakes Jacques made in her quest to raise a lot of money quickly. "We have a strong grassroots network," Burgess points out.
Of course, speculation about special-interest money for O’Brien hinges on the assumption that the money will be there for her. It may not be. Unlike the special election for the Ninth Congressional District, which took place during a quiet campaign season, the 2002 political season will see a cornucopia of hotly contested races throughout New England — many of them running women with much greater financial needs than O’Brien’s. Take the New Hampshire Senate race, in which New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen will go up against Senator Bob Smith or Congressman John Sununu. Both men are anti-choice, but if Smith, who is the favorite of Christian conservatives, overcomes the primary challenge, a rabidly pro-life male Republican (Smith) will face off against a pro-choice female Democrat (Shaheen). Faced with a choice of giving money to O’Brien — three of whose primary opponents are solidly pro-choice (Galvin is the exception) and whose would-be general-election opponent is a pro-choice female — or Shaheen, pro-choice national donors would probably be more inclined to give money to Shaheen. Indeed, EMILY’s List already highlights the Shaheen race on its Web site (www.emilyslist.org). And none of the foregoing takes into account the number of other Congressional and Senate races taking place around the country. In the meantime, both houses of US Congress will also be in play in 2002. This means, for instance, that Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana — another pro-choice Democrat — will likely have to run a contested race against a pro-life opponent.
O’Brien supporters discount the possibility that the other races will drain women’s financial support away from her. "I think the treasurer, now running for governor, is going to be important to donors in Massachusetts so they won’t get sidetracked by the Shaheen race," says Burgess. Of a possible Swift-O’Brien match-up, she says, "most of our money comes from Democratic women so that doesn’t make it more difficult."
Democratic consultant Michael Goldman adds that EMILY’s List will stagger donor options so that each race the group decides to focus on will get a fair share of the money. Donors get a list of, say, five candidates from different regions of the country. In all this, Goldman says, O’Brien will be helped by the fact that she is leading in the Democratic polls. "The biggest advantage she has on that list is that she’s a front-runner," says Goldman, who is neutral in the governor’s race so far.
It’s hard to fault O’Brien for spending seven months acting as if the legislature would honor the state’s obligation to fund Clean Elections — a commitment mandated by two-thirds of the voters in 1998. She wanted not only to state her support for Clean Elections (which even Republican governor Swift has done), but to run as a Clean Elections candidate (which Swift is not doing). As is now clear, that gamble failed when the legislature decided to hold up Clean Elections.
Of the candidates in the governor’s race, O’Brien and Grossman — a successful businessman who, though he’s never run for office, garnered 29 percent support in a recent UMass poll, only five points away from O’Brien — are positioned to make the case that they are best-suited to challenge the Republican governor during an economic and fiscal crisis. But O’Brien may find it difficult to get her message out, unless she can catch up in the great money game.
Seth Gitell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Issue Date: November 8 - 15, 2001