Massachusetts voters, it seems, are partial to outsiders. Elizabeth Warren was a law professor and consumer advocate before she won election to the US Senate. And Deval Patrick was a little-known lawyer when he launched his first campaign for governor.
The most obvious Democratic heir to the brand, this year, is gubernatorial hopeful Donald Berwick. He worked briefly for Obama administration, but unlike his major rivals for the job, he is no creature of Beacon Hill. And he has pitched himself as a Warren-like figure in recent months – a fiery progressive propelled by a grassroots energy.
Yet the newest newcomer is struggling to get traction. He’s polling at just 5 percent, 15 points behind Treasurer Steve Grossman and a full 40 points behind Attorney General Martha Coakley, his two rivals on the Sept. 9 primary ballot.
Berwick is not the only outsider to stumble this year; two other fresh faces, homeland security expert Juliette Kayyem and biopharmaceutical executive Joseph Avellone, didn’t even qualify for the Democratic gubernatorial primary ballot.
Their travails have sparked a debate among political operatives and observers about why some candidates are able to grab the most coveted label in Massachusetts politics and others are not. And the evidence, they say, points to a volatile stew of factors: race, gender, political party and timing.
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