In a typical election year, the rotary in Adam Boulette’s Grafton Hill neighborhood in Worcester is packed with volunteers ahead of Election Day, “chanting and hollering” at passers-by.
Now, there’s “one guy sitting on his phone in a chair,” Boulette, 39, told a reporter Saturday. “He’s not even looking at anybody.”
With hours left until Tuesday, the air of political apathy is hard to ignore in Massachusetts. Democrats up and down the ticket are crushing their rivals in fund-raising and leading by double digits in the polls. Nearly 20 percent of registered voters had already voted early in-person or by mail since Friday. How many will ultimately turn out is unclear.
Statewide, candidates were still clinging to campaign trappings, appearing at get-out-the-vote events or rallying diehard supporters. But many Democratic activists, feeling confident in Maura Healey’s chance of taking the governor’s office over Republican Geoff Diehl, are focusing their efforts on contested ballot questions or races in New Hampshire and elsewhere.
Others offer a shrug.
“No one feels inspired by any of these candidates,” said Jacquetta Van Zandt, a political strategist and host of the “Politics and Prosecco” videocast program.
“The entitlement of some of these candidates is on full display,” Van Zandt said. “It’s why you see low votes for early voting.”
Even nationally, there seems to be an acceptance that Massachusetts is not in play this cycle.
In a speech last week at Roxbury Community College, Vice President Kamala Harris alluded to the fact that the most competitive midterm races are not in Massachusetts.
“It really matters who you talk to . . . call your cousins in other states,” Harris said from the stage.
One canvasser in Worcester, where Healey and others hyped up a modest crowd of volunteers on Saturday, said she joked to her daughter about leaving Massachusetts to help in states with more competitive midterms this cycle.
“I said, ‘You know, I almost wish I could move out to, like, Michigan and get myself a job,” said Kristen Hemenway of Sterling.
Jermoh Kamara, a member of the Worcester School Committee, said from her experience door-knocking in her own race, she has found groups of people, especially in minority communities, who are being missed in voter outreach efforts. Even she wasn’t involved in canvassing until Saturday afternoon.
“Folks who are ‘in the know’ know what’s going on,” she said, as she wedged door-hangers in the hinges of an apartment mailbox. “But I think that we can do a lot more of getting people aware of not only the fact that there’s an election, but who is running.”
The Healey campaign says they aren’t seeing a lack of energy in Massachusetts, though.
Karissa Hand, a spokeswoman with the campaign, told the Globe that the pre-election weekend brought out more volunteer canvassers than the campaign had seen this year.
On Saturday alone, 685 shifts of volunteers knocked on 23,949 doors, Hand said.
“We are hustling and crisscrossing the state, and we will be right up through the time the polls close on Tuesday,” Healey told the Globe in Worcester Saturday.
The next day in Arlington, she rallied with Senator Elizabeth Warren and other elected officials, each urging the 100 or so gathered to not be lulled into complacency.
“Anyone who has been doing this for a while remembers Martha Coakley,” Michael Watson, 71, of Arlington said of Coakley’s loss to Charlie Baker in the 2014 race for governor. “A lot of us took that race for granted.”
So Watson was carrying a stack of campaign fliers through the reliably blue town.
“For me, it’s better than sitting at home and worrying,” Watson said.
Other Democratic activists describe a campaign season lacking enthusiasm. Without a competitive primary, followed by a sleepy general election, it’s allowed Healey, too, to embrace what some feel has been a quiet campaign, with few public forums and a public campaign schedule dominated by what appear to be highly coordinated events, such as downtown business walks or tours.
On Monday, the day before Election Day, Healey has just one event scheduled — a visit to a food market in East Boston.
Many grass-roots activists feel like they’re “on the sidelines” and, as a result, unenthused, said one party activist who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In turn, many have focused on buttressing a few ballot questions, particularly one in support of the proposed constitutional amendment that would raise taxes on some of the state’s wealthiest. Known as Question 1, it would levy a 4 percent surtax on annual earnings over $1 million.
Question 4, which would uphold a new law that allows people without legal immigration status to get driver’s licenses, has also garnered major attention. On Sunday, Warren and other elected officials touted the ballot question in Lawrence, where Service Employees International Union members and other volunteers wearing yellow “Yes on 4″ shirts fanned out to canvass the city, where more than 40 percent of residents were born in another country.
Republicans reject the notion that the outcomes of the statewide races are a foregone conclusion, citing past surprise GOP victories locally, such as former US senator Scott Brown in 2010, and nationally, as with former President Donald Trump’s win in 2016.
”This race is not over!” Brown shouted Sunday night from the stage at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, where his band, Scott Brown and the Diplomats, interspersed songs with candidate speeches during a 250-person GOP rally. “There’s a reason why the vice president came in!”
Tim Shea, 56, an unenrolled voter, agreed. The Acton resident said he sees a “lack of passion” from Democrats. He’s come across few lawn signs or standouts, he said, and believes turnout among the state’s leading party will be lacking.
”I think we’re going to shock the whole country,” Shea said.
The rally, however, also underscored the GOP’s own divides entering Election Day.
Absent were Governor Charlie Baker or Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, who aren’t seeking reelection, and its entire statewide slate. Anthony Amore, a Baker-backed candidate for state auditor, did not attend. The highest-ranking elected official to speak was Steven Xiarhos, a freshman state lawmaker.
But Baker didn’t go without mention. State party chair Jim Lyons cited how Baker won by just 41,000 votes in 2014, and noted that turnout has lagged during the early voting period, drawing a cheer. Diehl said turnout is especially down in “big cities.”
”If they don’t want to vote for Democrats, that’s fine,” Diehl said. “Because come Election Day, I see the red wave that people have been talking about coming.”
On the last day of early voting, Healey and her running mate, Kim Driscoll, spent more than an hour in Boston’s historic North End, practicing their cannoli-filling skills and meeting business owners. They visited Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry — friendly rivals in the Italian neighborhood — and posed for photos with passersby, some who knew of Healey and others who did not.
A few customers they ran into said they had voted for the two, a few more said they plan to.
But the rest in the bakery lines were tourists or groups in town on work trips, hailing from places like Brazil, England, Seattle, and Colorado.
Ethan Olson, 29, of Wausau, Wis., a software developer for Liberty Mutual, turned to his co-workers as reporters and campaign staff followed Healey out into the bakery from behind the counter.
“Who is that?” Olson asked.