Kerry Gets Slapped

The Massachusetts Democratic Party held its state convention Saturday -- it was a warm, warm day, but fortunately the convention planners seated the 2nd Suffolk delegation right in the center of Tsongas arena, so the building was kept cool by the icy chill generated between Dianne Wilkerson and Sonia Chang-Diaz. (It figures to be even frostier at their first debate later this week, sponsored by the 5th Ward.)

The only significant question was whether US Senate challenger Ed O'Reilly would get the necessary 15% to get on the ballot against John Kerry, and by Saturday morning everyone had conceded that he would. His supporters -- primarily anti-war progressives still begrudging Kerry's 2002 authorization vote -- were more motivated to get to Lowell on a sunny Saturday than the do-as-their-told rank and file. That included many of Tom Menino's people, whose absences were pointed out by several observers, sparking some to speculate that the mayor was deliberately dissing Kerry, although others said Menino had simply told his delegates that they need not forego their weekend getaway to the Cape for the essentially meaningless gathering.

That mini-controversy underscored the unavoidable tension of the convention, and in the state party: the ongoing sectarian tensions between the Clintonites and the Obamans. Kerry is a full-bore Obama loyalist, and most of the Democratic leaders and activists in Massachusetts -- including Menino -- are Clinton dead-enders. Interestingly, Hillary gave her big Barack-endorsing speech during the convention, so all but a small percentage who gathered around TVs on the concourse missed her call for unity. The same plea was made several times from the dais, most notably from Obama friend (or Clinton betrayer, depending on one's viewpoint) Deval Patrick.

It was hard to tell how much of O'Reilly's vote came from Angry Clintonistas seeking to stick it to Kerry, but it was not an insignificant number. "I know a lot of women who will vote for O'Reilly today just to embarrass John Kerry," one state rep told me. On the other hand, as city councilor Mike Ross pointed out, the Ward 5 Democratic Committee unanimously endorsed Kerry, and that's a group with quite a few Clinton supporters, not to mention a bunch of super-lefties unhappy with Kerry over the war and his failure to support gay marriage.

And while it might have been coincidence, Kerry sent up two die-hard Clinton supporters to introduce him: AG Martha Coakley, and Robert Kennedy Jr., standing in for Ted. (And by the way, O'Reilly really is a dead ringer for Joe K. when he's making a speech.) Coakley also gave the introduction for another presentation, one that carried heavy Hillary-crowd undertones: the first graduating class of Emerge Massachusetts, a project by which the state's powerful women -- mostly the same ones leading the Clinton battle -- are training up-and-coming women to run for political office. It's pretty clear that battle lines have been drawn.

In the end, despite intense pressure from party leaders and activists, O'Reilly got 22%, a number more than sufficient to force Kerry's first primary in 24 years. Boston's contingent held the line for Kerry with only a few defectors, but once you got out to suburbia the story was different: Newton and Wellesley, for instance -- where you'll find both anti-war liberals and pro-Hillary women in abundance -- delegates went nearly 40% for the challenger.

Kerry, with Teresa beside him, gave a brief presser outside for the couple of reporters (NECN and Channel 5) who were willing to pretend to care about the senator pretending to be happy with the results. Then they asked him about the Clinton-Obama rift. "People are going to come together," he predicted.

Kerry was more convincing the next morning, serving as Obama surrogate on ABC's This Week, debating McCain supporter Lindsay Graham. 

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