Inside The Insider Question

Over the course of the year I have occasionally remarked that it's typical of Massachusetts Democrats that, in a year where voters are clearly angry at insider Beacon Hill Democrats, the party is rallying around former party chairman Steve Grossman and former Deval Patrick campaign political director Suzanne Bump, for the open statewide offices of treasurer and auditor.

But should Democratic voters be worried about voting for these "insiders" in the upcoming primaries? That's really a two-part question. Is their insider status a problem for performing the job? And, is their insider status a problem for winning the general election?

Let's start with Grossman. Some argue that Grossman, a private businessman who has never held public elected office, is less of an insider than either his primary opponent, long-time Boston city councilor Steve Murphy, or the presumptive Republican nominee, state representative Karyn Polito.

But come on -- Grossman is an insider's insider, a top fundraiser for local and national candidates, a guy who makes introductions between insiders. There must be a thousand pictures of him shaking hands with Democratic insiders. He can't pull off the 'just regular folks' persona that Murphy can (and Glodis, in the auditor's race); and nobody thinks a Republican like Polito is an "insider" in any meaningful way.

Grossman is about the easiest person, this side of Thomas Petrolati, to caricature as an insider. I don't see much reason to think that this would make him a bad treasurer, although I suppose an argument could be made. As to whether he would be an easier target for Polito, I suspect the answer is yes -- although I don't know that she can make it a fatal issue. You would think that voters are generally just looking for competence in a treasurer (and perhaps a cute daughter with a catchy slogan).

Bump is a little more complicated. She has been a state representative, a Beacon Hill lobbyist, a campaign advisor, and an administration appointee (appointed, in fact, by the guy she campaigned for). That's an unquestionable insider's resume, even if I am unfairly skipping over other parts of her career.

She would argue (and does) that the reality behind that resume shows independence, not insiderism. As a state rep, she successfully pushed for passage of a worker's compensation reform law, against the wishes of party leadership -- at the cost, arguably, of getting voted out of office. She says she lobbied for "good" causes, not the ones with huge bucks to buy favors. She joined the campaign of the outsider candidate, against the party hierarchy.

Indeed, there's an argument to be made that her experience on all sides of state government gives her a detailed knowledge of how things work, and how they could work better.

There's some truth to that. The problem, I would argue, is that the perception bar is much higher in her race. That is, people (rightly) expect that the auditor will go after anybody and everybody equally, and it's easy to imagine that Bump's long history in and around state politics has resulted in relationships, friendships, or favors that could hamper her willingness to do that.

I suspect that Bump can convince many Democratic primary voters that her experience is an asset, rather than a detriment. But what about the second part of the equation -- should they be worried that she is a worse general-election candidate because of it?

You've got to think Bump would be an easier target in that respect for likely Republican nominee Mary Connaughton -- certainly than genuine outsider Mike Lake, and even than long-time pol Glodis. It may not be fair, but Glodis has that fight-for-the-working-class thing going, and Bump kinda has that Martha Coakley thing going.

So what's my conclusion from all of this? To be honest, I just can't decide the answer to this crucial question: If you line up Deval Patrick, Martha Coakley, Steve Grossman, Bill Galvin, and Suzanne Bump as your state-wide slate, will average voters think A) that's a smart, serious, experienced group who make the GOP slate look like a bunch of second-rate amateurs; or B) that's a bunch of out-of-touch, insider, Boston elites?

I'd be interested in what any of you think.

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