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  • Campaign '98

    Ex-Mayor Ray Flynn's Comeback Fizzles


    By Pamela Ferdinand
    Special to The Washington Post
    Thursday, September 17, 1998; Page A12

    BOSTON, Sept. 16 — The comeback hopes of former Boston mayor and ex-Vatican ambassador Raymond L. Flynn expired with a whimper Tuesday. But Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates Paul Cellucci and Scott Harshbarger trounced their respective primary opponents with a bang and prepared to square off in a contest that will decide whether the GOP extends its grip on this predominantly Democratic state's highest office.

    Both races, now in their final laps, were dramatically shaped by the withdrawal of nationally known figures from the political scene: retiring Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II (D) and former governor William F. Weld (R), who left office in midterm.

    In the storied 8th Congressional District, 10 liberal rivals quickly sought to fill the vacuum left by Kennedy, who decided to leave politics after his brother Michael's skiing death and a spate of family problems.

    Flynn, an early front-runner, now faces an uncertain political future after failing to offset a last-minute jump in the polls by five-term Somerville Mayor Michael Capuano. Flynn came in second with 18 percent of the vote after running a quiet grass-roots campaign with advertising that featured his photo with Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa. He was the only antiabortion candidate.

    "You get involved in politics to make a contribution. Sometimes you win them," said Flynn in a somber concession speech Tuesday, "sometimes you lose them."

    Buoyed by a solid organization, loyal base and strong local turnout, Capuano captured 23 percent of the vote to inherit the office once held by political legends James Michael Curley, Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr., and John F. Kennedy. Capuano, 49, has built a reputation as an efficient, hands-on administrator in a city undergoing a renaissance after years of playing second fiddle to the university meccas of Boston and Cambridge.

    One Republican, Philip Hyde II of Somerville, ran unopposed. The Democratic primary winner has traditionally been assured of a November victory in this deeply liberal district, and Capuano is likely to be no exception.

    While the 8th District appears to be a done deal for Democrats, most political observers here contend it's open season in the race for governor. Both nominees – Cellucci, the Republican acting governor, and Harshbarger, the Democratic state attorney general – are considered relative moderates by Massachusetts standards with few ideological differences.

    Both, too, benefited from unexpected departures. Weld abandoned the state's most powerful post to fight (as it turned out, unsuccessfully) for a U.S. ambassadorship to Mexico, elevating the status of then-Lt. Gov. Cellucci, while Harshbarger surfaced as the leading Democratic contender only after Kennedy's decision to abandon a likely run for governor and withdraw from politics.

    November's outcome will largely depend on whether a strong GOP incumbency and economic prosperity (most notably, a 3.1 percent unemployment rate and $1 billion income tax cut) is sufficient to appease an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate, several analysts said.

    "It's going to be a real war," said Michael Goldman, a Democratic consultant.

    At stake, moreover, is the future of the Massachusetts Republican Party, generally shaky at best. "It's our only piece of property on Broadway, to say nothing of the fact that it's the best," said Kevin Sowyrda, a Republican strategist. "Unfortunately, if we lose it, we lose it all."

    With seven weeks to go, recent polls have indicated a toss-up, but some insiders say the edge goes to Harshbarger. Many think Cellucci was badly bloodied in a knock-down, drag-out primary fight against state Treasurer Joseph D. Malone that raised reports of Cellucci's massive personal debt and stirred rumors of a racetrack gambling problem. A Boston Herald exit poll, however, showed one in four of those who cast Democratic ballots expected to vote for Cellucci in November.

    An aggressive behind-the-scenes player, Cellucci is likely to continue depicting Harshbarger as a tax-and-spend liberal – raising the discomfiting economic specter of late 1980s Massachusetts under then Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (D). On the other hand, Harshbarger is expected to criticize Cellucci for neglecting education and will try to capitalize on the tough law-and-order reputation that has distanced him from some of the very people he needs to win, analysts said.

    One major issue differentiating the two is the death penalty: Cellucci supports capital punishment, Harshbarger opposes it. The other may be their campaign philosophy.

    This morning, Harshbarger challenged Cellucci to run a positive campaign and asked for a ban on negative television advertisements and $1.5 million cap on campaign spending.

    Cellucci, who said during his victory speech that Malone's brutal challenge "toughened" him up, did not directly respond to Harsbarger's challenge on television tonight. But perhaps he put it best when he told supporters Tuesday, "Now the fun really begins."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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