No one knows who is winning the Boston mayor’s race. But Marty Walsh is definitely winning the endorsement race, and it’s fair to say that this is driving John Connolly crazy.
A flood of elected officials and former opponents have flocked to endorse Walsh since the preliminary election, beginning with Felix Arroyo and John Barros. Charlotte Golar Richie joined them, followed by state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry.
On Monday Walsh is set to accept the nod of Congressman Mike Capuano. Connolly will be endorsed by a group of ministers and what he said will be “dozens” of leaders of communities of color.
The endorsement derby is uncommon. Sure, politicians like to have people vouch for them and, ideally, work for them. But the endorsements in this race have threatened to overshadow the candidates’ differences on policy. Frankly, that’s weird.
It’s escaped no one’s notice that many of the people who have worked with both Walsh and Connolly — or run against them —
“Of course I would like to have the endorsements of elected officials,” Connolly said. “But I don’t think they’re going to determine this race. I’ve been out here for years working in the neighborhoods of this city, and I’m being endorsed by people who are really on the front lines.”
Of course, part of the reason Walsh and Connolly have come to rely so heavily on the good words of others is that voters outside their political bases don’t have a particularly strong sense of them. That vagueness is reflected in the constant references to Walsh as “the union guy” or to Connolly as “the schools guy.” Both of them are more than that, but that’s what casual observers know.
From the second the preliminary campaign ended, Walsh knew he had to expand his base of support beyond organized labor and his home neighborhood of Dorchester. Surrogates can be an effective tool for that — especially the kind who will actually campaign after the television cameras go away.
Connolly’s challenge is less clear-cut. Contrary to owning a particular neighborhood, his campaign is based on selling an idea: that improving the schools will address other urban ills as well and that he can be trusted to execute such a vision. That notion cuts across geographical, economic, and ethnic lines. But the coalition it suggests is much harder to pull together. By its very nature, it’s more diffuse.
Ask political veterans how much voters care about endorsements, and the response you get is a resounding shrug. Sure, it’s good for Walsh to walk through Egleston Square with community leaders or for Connolly to be backed by local pastors in Dudley. But it should be seen as an introduction, an entree. It’s the candidates themselves who have to close the deal. Elections aren’t a popularity contest among politicians, thank goodness.
The truth no one can say out loud is that both campaigns are relieved there are almost no major endorsements left to fight over. Begging other politicians for their support is quite possibly more trouble than it’s really worth.
The rest of us should welcome the end of endorsement season, too. Our favorite politicians made their choices, which we can take for what they are worth. But the people who really have to be won over are just tuning in.