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Scot Lehigh

Democratic convention was disorganized, counterproductive

Workers began cleaning up after the state Democratic convention ended at the DCU Center in Worcester on Saturday.

John Tlumacki/Globe staff

Workers began cleaning up after the state Democratic convention ended at the DCU Center in Worcester on Saturday.

So let’s see. After an afternoon humid with rhetoric about the importance of inclusion, multiple voices, and opportunity for all, Democrats knocked two otherwise qualified gubernatorial candidates off their primary ballot and endorsed a consummate insider as their favorite.

Mind you, this kind of process represents the very zenith of progressive politics. It builds Democratic support, makes the grass-roots trill with excitement, and attracts thousands of enthusiastic idealists to the party.

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Or at least that what I’ve been told whenever I’ve written columns warning about the exclusionary aspect of the 15 percent rule.

So now Democrats move forward with two Beacon Hill figures who have left voters decidedly underwhelmed in past campaigns and an avuncular progressive whose rhetorical overtures, to put things in celestial terms, tend toward pie in the sky.

Now, no one thought Joe Avellone had a particularly strong shot at making the ballot. After all, he’s both a relative moderate and a relative outsider – and that wasn’t a winning combination for this conclave of liberals and insiders. Still, he definitely had something to offer.

So did Juliette Kayyem. A homeland security maven, she had a different set of experiences, a no (well, make that less) nonsense style, and several distinct policy ideas. In her speech, Kayyem, a former Globe columnist, offered a warning on electability, reminding the delegates that before Deval Patrick came along, Democrats had lost four straight gubernatorial contests – and saying that it could happen again.

“Becoming governor is not a lifetime achievement award,” she said. “We don’t win elections when we settle for the next in line.”

Frankly, though her remarks were too caustic for this crowd of conventioneers, Kayyem has a point. Grossman prevailed not because he’s a particularly compelling candidate but because 1) as a former state and national Democratic Party chairman and a statewide officeholder, he’s well-known and liked among Democratic insiders and 2) he’s been in a lot of activists’ living rooms, contributed and raised a lot of money for the party and its candidates, and done a lot of favors.

As for Attorney General Martha Coakley, she was left to paste on a smile and declare herself delighted with a razor-close second-place finish. (Fortunately, she wasn’t wired up to a candometer.)

Coakley made an interesting oratorical offering, acknowledging the disappointment and anger Democrats felt over her lackluster 2010 US Senate campaign. To assuage concerns that nominating her for governor could spell a repeat of that low-energy effort, she promised she’d work tirelessly this time around.

Here’s the problem with that, however. It’s one thing to start early and end late on the campaign trail. It’s quite another to fill in one’s candidacy with a crisp, cogent, comprehendible, fiscally credible set of ideas. To date, she hasn’t made much of an effort to meet that intellectual challenge.

But if that’s a problem for Coakley, it’s a problem squared for Don Berwick, who finished just a hair’s breadth behind her. Berwick generated some genuine excitement with his call for a sweeping liberalism. And finishing close on Coakley’s heels should give his campaign some energy.

With his new status, however, will come more scrutiny. He will soon need to inform his rhetoric with plausible details about how he plans to end poverty, revolutionize health care, and transform society.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party needs to think hard about its convention. This one, frankly, was both disorganized and counterproductive.

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