Dem chair rivals focus on Baker in wake of Clinton’s loss

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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, NOV. 9, 2016…..As the Democratic Party begins the soul-searching process after Republican Donald Trump’s dramatic presidential victory Tuesday, the state party will have far less turnaround time before choosing the man who lead it into the next election cycle when Gov. Charlie Baker and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren could both be standing for re-election.

The state committee will gather in less than a week to choose a successor to outgoing chairman Sen. Thomas McGee. The men vying for the post include 2014 lieutenant governor nominee Stephen Kerrigan, National Committeeman Gus Bickford and Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins.

Despite Hillary Clinton’s struggles around the country, the former first lady and secretary of state performed well in Massachusetts, racking up 61 percent of the vote. But even as incumbent Democratic state legislators fended off a series of targeted challenges and newcomers held down open seats, the party failed to produce the gains that are common in presidential cycles in the state.

Republican lawmakers also held their own around the state, fending off strong Democratic challengers who in another year might have been able to turn a few red seats blue. In fact, not one incumbent lost Tuesday.

“What we cannot afford to do is do a lot of handwringing and finger-pointing,” Kerrigan said. “We have to get to work to make sure we have a strong party, pay attention to what happened in this race, and build a party that’s ready to compete in 2018.”

Kerrigan and Bickford both cited wins on Cape Cod and in western Massachusetts where Democrat Julian Cyr of Truro held an open seat for the party and Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow fended of a challenger despite the MassGOP and Gov. Charlie Baker pouring time and resources into both races.

“I don’t want to gloss it over, but that’s a strong case,” Bickford said.

Both men also seized on the failing by a wide margin of the ballot question to expand charter schools as a potential vulnerability for the Republican governor heading into his re-election.

“The big untold story is the influence that the governor put into Question 2 and how much skin he had in that game and how colossally wrong he was about what people were thinking,” Kerrigan said.

Question 2, which would have authorized up to 12 new charter schools a year, failed with 62 percent opposed and 38 percent in favor.

“I think that’s a shot across the bow there. The governor needs to be concerned about some of things he may be facing in the future,” Bickford said.

Kerrigan also criticized Baker for blanking his presidential ballot on Tuesday after he said he could not bring himself to vote for either Trump or Clinton.

“What people in Massachusetts have to ask him is had you not blanked the presidency and really put public service above his political machinations could he have made a difference in this race,” Kerrigan said. “He showed kids in Massachusetts that it’s OK to blank the most important job in the country.”

Kerrigan, Bickford and Tompkins have a series of four public forums over the next five days to debate their visions for the party starting Wednesday night in Cambridge followed by Framingham on Thursday, Hyannis on Saturday and Northampton on Sunday.

Party members will gather in Quincy on Monday night to choose the next chairman. Tompkins did not return calls seeking comment on Wednesday.

Because the winner must secure over 50 percent of the votes present, some party insiders predict voting could go to a second ballot.

Both Kerrigan and Bickford have claimed support from at least 100 state committee members. While Kerrigan has periodically published lists of those supporters, Bickford has yet to do so, though he said he may before the vote on Monday.

Kerrigan said the outcome of Tuesday’s election does not change his message. “There are a lot of angry folks out there that feel left behind by our economy, by our politics and by the changing demographics, but we can’t change some of that and we must work to bring all Americans along,” he said.

Bickford said the party must also reconsider how it delivers its message if it hopes to win back the corner office from Baker in two years.

“It’s important for the party to be organized from the grassroots up around the message we need to get out. We need to hold on to our Democratic values and focus more on how the message is delivered and deliver it in person,” Bickford said, questioning the efficacy of endorsements and other conventional political tactics in the modern era.

Both men also said they weren’t overly concerned about the all-Democratic makeup of the state’s Congressional delegation moving into a stretch of complete Republican domination in Washington.

“They’re not unused to dealing in the minority and they’re very good at getting things done for Massachusetts in that way, but make no mistake we don’t have a Republican governor who’s close to the president-elect. That could be a problem,” Kerrigan said.

Copyright 2016 State House News Service