When she started running for governor in August, Juliette Kayyem offered an intriguing profile for Democrats yearning for an exciting new candidate. As a homeland security official, she had worked with Governor Deval Patrick and President Obama. As a Boston Globe columnist and CNN commentator, she knew how to craft an argument.
But nine months later, she is lagging in polls, has not won any endorsements from elected officials, and recently loaned $200,000 of her own money to her campaign account. Party insiders say that she, Donald Berwick, and Joseph Avellone may not win enough support at the party convention in June to qualify for the September primary ballot.
Now, Kayyem is sharpening her attacks, hoping to inject a jolt of energy into her campaign. Taking aim at the front-runners, Attorney General Martha Coakley and Treasurer Steve Grossman, she is arguing that it would be a mistake for Democrats to nominate an established figure from Beacon Hill, pointing out that when the party lost four consecutive governor’s races from 1990 to 2006, three of the four nominees fit that profile.
She plans to make the argument at a rally Saturday at Arlington Town Hall, signaling a new, more aggressive phase of the campaign, four weeks before the state Democratic convention.
“From 1990 to 2006, despite living in a progressive state that sent Ted Kennedy to Washington repeatedly, we lost election after election to Republicans,” Kayyem said, previewing her argument in an interview. “So the idea that the next in line is a good strategy for the party is contradicted by the facts.”
She contended that, as a candidate making her first run for elected office, she more closely fits the outsider mold that made Patrick an appealing choice in 2006. Coakley and Grossman “are the establishment,” she said. “It is time now to start discussing differences,” Kayyem said. “We are not all the same.” By raising the specter of bitter Democratic losses in past governor’s races, Kayyem could touch a raw nerve among party activists.
Many of them worked hard on those campaigns and still respect those nominees, such as Shannon P. O’Brien, the former state treasurer who lost to Mitt Romney in 2002,and Scott Harshbarger, the former attorney general who lost to Paul Cellucci in 1998.
But some party insiders said Kayyem needs to take a more aggressive approach, as she appears to be struggling for traction.
Polls have shown her, Berwick, and Avellone trailing far behind Coakley, with Grossman in second place.
Though Kayyem said she is confident she will qualify for the ballot, some party activists say she, Berwick, and Avellone could fall short of securing the support of 15 percent of delegates needed to earn a spot in the primary.
“One of them has got to make some kind of a play for the delegates in order to be on the ballot,” said Debra Kozikowski, vice chairwoman of the state Democratic Party who supports Grossman.
“So I think it’s a wise move on her part to show she has the chutzpah and the vision to be a candidate in September.”
Tim Foley, Coakley campaign manager, dismissed Kayyem’s attempt to link the attorney general to the failed candidacies of past Democratic nominees. “Instead of trying to predict who voters will choose in November, Martha Coakley is working hard every day to earn their support by building a strong, enthusiastic, grass-roots campaign,” he said in a statement.
Grossman also rejected the comparison. “I’m proud to be running a positive progressive campaign that is building an army of grass-roots activists one handshake at a time,” he said in a statement.
Scott Ferson, a Democratic strategist, said he believes that Kayyem is smart to launch a tougher line against the front-runners, saying she has “got to get attention somehow.”
“People always talk about positive campaigns and keeping it clean,” he said, “but if you don’t draw a contrast in a Democratic primary, where everyone basically agrees on everything, how are people going to choose?”