SOMERVILLE - Massachusetts residents woke up to a startling realization yesterday: By the end of this new year, their former governor could be the president-elect.
OK, so maybe it was not a collective jolt, and there is still a long road ahead for Mitt Romney in his quest to become the GOP nominee. But he is looking good in Iowa, even better in New Hampshire, and several rivals have bitten the dust.
The arrival of the election year and the attendant electoral prospects for Romney were greeted with a level of enthusiasm befitting the mostly left-leaning residents of a liberal state in Prospect Hill Park in Somerville yesterday, where the city celebrated the 236th anniversary of the raising of the Great Union Flag.
“I just know candidates from Massachusetts tend to do poorly, so I’m feeling hopeful,’’ said Sonia Booth, 24, who was a member of a Students Against Mitt Romney group when she was in high school. “I do find it scary.’’
And yet, like the state that elected not only Romney but Republican Scott Brown to the US Senate in an early victory for Tea Party movement sympathizers, Somerville has a red streak, too. It wasn’t hard to find a few people who were keeping a gleeful eye on Romney’s poll numbers in Iowa.
“It would be wonderful for us, as our ex-governor,’’ said Evelyn Battinelli, 73, of the prospects of a Romney White House. She was handing out programs and selling tricorn hats in the city yesterday.
She liked Romney as governor, and she likes his chances this year. “He’s been steady all along, very thoughtful, didn’t get involved in any controversies,’’ she said.
It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, perfect for taking in the expansive view from Prospect Hill. It was here that, on Jan. 1, 1776, George Washington ordered the hoisting of the first national flag in response to news that King George III had declared war on the colonies. Each year, reenactors celebrate the anniversary of the First Flag raising in high Revolutionary War-era style - muskets, horses, songs, and speeches.
The onlookers were a mix of natives and newcomers, 30-something parents and sturdy veterans, professionals and working-class folks. They brought all sorts of dogs, who quailed at the American Legion Post 19 firing squad’s salute.
Jennifer Haefeli, 41, who held her 6-week-old daughter snuggled against her chest in a baby carrier, said she doubted Romney would go far: He might be the only Republican left standing, she said, but he hasn’t excited the base, so President Obama will have an edge.
“I think the Republicans are not really happy with him,’’ said Haefeli, a left-leaning independent.
Her husband, Josh, disagreed. “I don’t think Obama has a prayer,’’ he said. He said he had been traveling for work as an engineer in the southeastern United States, particularly the Florida Panhandle, where “the vitriol against that man’’ would shock Massachusetts liberals, he said.
Romney fans in the crowd seemed less anti-Obama than pro-Romney, and some from personal experience. Doug Bosley, 49, who works in information technology sales and consulting, stood on a curb in a tricorn hat with his 10-year-old Boston terrier and a friend. Bosley met Romney in 1994, when Romney was challenging Edward M. Kennedy for Senate and Bosley was running for state representative in the Back Bay. Both lost, but Bosley fondly recalled that Romney remembered him by name three months after a first brief meeting. “He was charismatic, and probably the smartest guy I ever met,’’ he said. “He was totally engaged, totally intense. He’s definitely a very capable guy.’’
Massachusetts Republican success stories are few and far between, but Bosley said he would not do much gloating even if Romney were elected. The country’s problems are too deep and intractable for that, he said.
Democrats in the crowd had long ago disowned Romney.
“He was like a carpetbagger,’’ scoffed Rob Bradley, the former Somerville police chief, who sported a wig and clop-clopped along on horseback in the role of George Washington. “He came in, ran for governor, did his term, and left.’’
So what did he think: Could Romney win the presidency? “Not a chance,’’ he said. Republicans, he said, were hurting their own prospects by blocking everything Obama was trying to accomplish.
If Somerville’s George Washington was sure of Romney’s defeat, its Ben Franklin was not, not at all. Richard Elliott, 86, a bespectacled character actor, said he thought Franklin would have liked Romney.
“I just think because he’s all-around American, for America. And he’s a businessman, which right now, we need jobs. Very important,’’ he said. Franklin, he said, “was a very practical man.’’