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The Boston Globe

Opinion

Scot Lehigh

Why does Mass. produce so many presidential nominees?

Globe wire services/globe staff illustration

It’s a familiar situation for those of us in Massachusetts.

Once again, the nation has turned to one of ours to lead a grand party into presidential campaign combat. That would no doubt be exciting for Pennsylvania or New York or Ohio or just about any other state, but frankly, it’s becoming a ho-hum affair here in the hub of the universe.

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Admittedly, a primary-season fling can prove a fickle thing; the last couple of times one party has nominated a Bay State favorite, the rest of the country has said “thanks, but no thanks.” Or, in the case of Michael Dukakis, thanks but no tanks. But right now, we’re still in the romantic spring phase of the campaign. Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee in all but name — and all eyes are again on Massachusetts.

And there’s this good news for Romney. Dukakis and John Kerry lost — and Bill Weld never even launched — because, as creatures of the Commonwealth, they were viewed as too liberal or too out of touch or aloof or too flippitty-floppitty. Oh yes, and as people voters wouldn’t want to have a beer with.

Of course, one would have to be a little kooky to look at Mitt and see a liberal. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum both have, you say? Well, Q.E.D. But though conservatives aren’t exactly rushing to Romney like dogs to the Alpo bowl, for those driven coco pops by Obama, Romney is the only date left for the dance. The question now is whether, in flipping to protect his starboard flank, he’s flopped right out of the mainstream.

And if you think he’s out of touch, put your money where your mouth is. Take a few million from your hedge fund (or, if you’re just out of college and your fund isn’t yet fully capitalized, borrow from your folks, as Romney recently recommended young entrepreneurs do), start your own super PAC, and see if you can make that canard stick. Bet you $10,000 you can’t.

Meanwhile, enough with the beer test. First off, Mitt doesn’t drink, not even caffeine, so there’s not the slightest chance you’ll see him performing the Cossack dance with a lamp shade on his head, the way Governor Dukakis often would after a few glasses of Christmas party cheer. (Just joking, Dukites.) And that’s a dopey standard anyway. Unless, that is, one has a keen interest in A) hearing a politician drone on about his favorite subject, which is inevitably himself; and B) picking up the check in exchange for that pleasure.

So why is the rest of the nation ineluctably drawn to our politicians? Is it that our knowledge economy naturally selects for brains and analytic ability? That our 24/7/365 political culture hones razor-sharp skills? That national voters believe working in the same city as Tom Menino imparts a sure-handedness in dealing with temperamental autocrats around the globe?

For the answer to why we’re so special, I turned to political encyclopedia Garrison Nelson of the University of Vermont.

“It’s the New Hampshire primary,” he declared.

Hmm. I must have dialed 1-800-Killjoy by mistake. All right, so the Granite State tends to fall in love with the candidate next door, and victories there reliably launch Bay Staters into national orbit. But beyond that, I mean.

“Then it’s Harvard,” says Nelson. “Harvard has been the largest producer of presidential candidates.”

OK, who cares about the precise reasons, anyway? The point is, this election demonstrates yet again that Massachusetts produces a perpetual parade of presidential prospects.

So who’s on deck?

Although he sometimes seems too mild-mannered for national combat, Deval Patrick is an accomplished two-term governor and a silver-tongued orator to boot. Scott Brown, meanwhile, already has as much national experience than Barack Obama did when he launched his presidential campaign; should the Republican senator win reelection in Massachusetts in a high-turnout presidential election, it will be time for Brown skeptics (editor: Lehigh, aren’t you one?) to to sit up and take notice.

Scoff if you will at either or both, but stranger things have happened. And will continue to happen.

As long as New Hampshire stays next door, that is.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com.
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