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Galvin gets reality check amid mishaps in secretary of state race

Secretary of State William Galvin faces Josh Zakim in the Democratic primary.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Secretary of State William Galvin’s stunning loss of the state Democratic endorsement at the party’s convention last weekend could force the six-term incumbent back to the campaign drawing board amid a series of politically embarrassing mishaps in recent months and his fiercest election challenge since he took office in 1995.

Galvin, 67, facing his first primary election in more than a decade, lost the party endorsement to Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim, by a margin of 55 to 45 percent of the delegates’ votes.

Both candidates have made the Sept. 4 primary ballot, but the 34-year-old Zakim’s upset win gives him a boost of credibility and confidence as he seeks statewide office, according to political observers.


And, for the first time, it gives Galvin a reality check. The progressive movement gaining momentum across the nation is creeping up to the secretary of state’s post, according to the analysts, who said they were surprised with the convention outcome.

“They rejected him, and I think that’s pretty stunning,” said Scott Ferson, president of the Liberty Square Group, who compared Zakim’s ascent to US Representative Seth Moulton’s surprising 2014 defeat of a longtime incumbent in a primary, a race he helped strategize.

Ferson said he would tell Zakim to keep campaigning with his progressive message. He would tell Galvin, “You spend every dollar you have on TV, trying to reinvent yourself, and hope people weren’t paying attention to Saturday.”

Galvin, of Brighton, downplayed the significance of the convention nomination, pointing out that he has lost the nomination before but went on to win a primary election, including when he was first elected to the post in 1994. He also cited a lack of interest by traditional delegates this year, because of a lacklaster gubernatorial campaign, which swayed the vote in Zakim’s favor.


Instead, Galvin said, he has focused efforts on the primary election in September, when he will look to appeal to statewide, traditional voters with what he called a proven record on preserving voting rights and policing the state’s securities industry.

“I intend to go into the primary, and do what I do,” Galvin said. “It’s the same race. It was going to be a race no matter what, and it still is.”

He said he does not plan to change his campaign strategy.

“I’m going to do what I always do, which is run on my record,” he said. “I would have preferred to have won, the fact that he won is good for him, I don’t deny that, but I don’t think it changes the fact that the people will decide.”

Josh Zakim spoke at the state Democratic connvention in Worcester on Saturday.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Zakim, the city councilor from the Back Bay for the last five years, was excited with what he said was a surprising vote tally, though he said it speaks to delegates’ desire for change, including the reforms to voter laws he has proposed.

“Secretary Galvin had a long time to work on these issues, and we’re behind” other states in voter accessibility policies, said Zakim.

He added, “I feel good about Saturday, but we’re still running against a 24-year incumbent, a savvy campaigner.”

Saturday’s loss was the latest setback for one Massachusetts’ most senior statesmen, who just six months ago looked likely to once again coast to reelection. In his last contest in 2014, Galvin handily defeated Republican challenger Dave D’Arcangelo, a Malden city councilor, claiming nearly 70 percent of the vote.


Since Zakim announced in November that he would run, though, Galvin has suffered a series of politically embarrassing mishaps that betray the reputation he has built up as a seasoned, steely campaigner.

First, in March, Mayor Dan Rivera of Lawrence made statewide headlines with the claim that Galvin inappropriately lashed out at him in an “unbecoming” tone in a phone conversation – “I made you mayor,” Galvin allegedly told him – after Rivera publicly announced he was endorsing Zakim.

Last month, Galvin disciplined several employees after an internal review confirmed they had performed political tasks on his behalf during their taxpayer-funded work schedule.

The review followed a Boston Globe report about state employees doing Galvin’s political work.

Meanwhile, many of the state’s Democratic leaders, newcomers and veterans alike, have decided to support Zakim, including Moulton and Suffolk Sheriff Steve Tompkins.

By late Friday, word at the convention also began to spread that Mayor Martin J. Walsh had telegraphed to Boston’s delegates that he would be supporting Zakim, which likely propelled Zakim’s success.

Political analysts said that Zakim has been able to harness an anti-incumbent fervor that is sweeping across the country, and is taking hold in Massachusetts in other races as well, by promising fresh ideas for an office that has not changed in two decades.

“I don’t think there’s patience with this old way of doing things anymore,” said Maurice Cunningham, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston.


Cunningham and others agreed that a party’s endorsement of a candidate in a convention does not foreshadow the candidates’ victory in a primary; former Attorney General Martha Coakley lost the nomination in her gubernatorial campaign four years ago, but still went on to with the primary. (She ultimately lost to Governor Charlie Baker in the general election.)

But, the analysts agreed, the surprising outcome will provide momentum for Zakim, while serving as another setback for Galvin.

Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College, said the burden is on Galvin to blunt Zakim’s progress, saying he can no longer rely on incumbency.

“[Zakim] goes into the primary with the wind in his sails,” Ubertaccio said.

He added, though, that, “Bill Galvin has for a longtime run statewide campaigns. It’s time to crank up that machine, get your war captains activated, and start counting votes.”

Milton J. Valencia
can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.