It's now just five days to election day in Boston, when five
powerhouse pols vie for four at-large city council seats. (I have been
greatly impressed by Will Dorcena and Sean Ryan, the other two
candidates on the ballot, but neither is likely to have a chance at
cracking the top four.)
All five have won city-wide before. Two
have run serious campaigns for higher office and may do so again; the
other three are expected to have higher office in their future. All have
strong bases of support, experienced staff, devoted volunteers. So,
this is a major league game of musical chairs.
Also, five days
out is when I start considering the weather forecast -- and as of now it
says Tuesday will be sunny, in the low 60s. Perfect voting weather.
will be a low-turnout affair, with a sharp divide between the city as a
whole, which is mostly tuned out, and the so-called "supervoters" who
always show up at the polls. The candidates, understandably, devote all
their time and resources (phone calls, door knocks, mailings) on those
supervoters -- which widens the gap, leaving the rest of the city even
more uninformed and disengaged, and less likely to participate.
who are part of the supervoter subset are not always terribly
well-informed, but in the at-large field the ones who actually get to
the polls usually have one or two specific candidates who they know and
like pretty well. This is also a self-reinforcing electorate trait,
because campaigns direct their get-out-the-vote efforts at their "ones,"
which for those of you outside the rarified world of political
campaigns refers to voters who have told the campaign they are
definitely voting for that candidate. So, for example the Connolly
campaign identifies its "ones," and targets its final effort toward
getting those "ones" to the polling place. Voters who are undecided
don't get this kind of devoted follow-up, because why would the Connolly
folks spend its time and resources dragging somebody out who might vote
for somebody else?
All of this is true of pretty much all elections, but is intensified in low-turnout affairs like this one.
In addition, this race is unusual for two reasons.
most races are either A) riding down-ballot, with turnout driven by
something bigger, like a governor's race; or B) itself something big,
like a governor's race. In both cases, the effort to identify and bring
out "ones" is really an attempt to affect at the margins, because large
numbers of voters are just showing up on their own. In this race,
however, the at-large is the biggest, most high-profile race on the
ballot (except perhaps in District 3) -- but it's not high-profile
enough for large numbers of people to just show up for it.
second oddity is that this is a multiple-vote election. In most races,
getting out your ones is a straightforward, zero-sum thing: if Suzanne
Lee, for example, gets one of her ones to show up to vote in District 2,
you chalk up a gain of one for her over Bill Linehan. But in the
at-large race, when Connolly gets one of his ones to the polls, that
person can go on to cast three more votes in the same race, for
This long-winded exposition gets me to
finally making my point, which is that forces in this particular
election conspire to ensure that the electorate will consist of a fairly
small number of people, who have definite plans to vote for at least
one specific candidate, but are probably winging it from there.
means that there are two big keys to the results. First, how strong is
each candidate's "base" turnout tomorrow? Second, what does each
candidate's base do with the rest of their votes?
Michael Flaherty's base voters in Southie, Dorchester, and Charlestown
"bullet" their guy (ie, use just the one vote)? If so, that probably
takes votes from Murphy.
--Will Felix Arroyo's base among labor
follow their locals' endorsements, which in many cases would include
Ayanna Pressley but not Flaherty? Or do they go with their instincts and
past votes, which in many cases would be the reverse?
Pressley's base among progressives vote to return the four incumbents,
or will they give a vote to Flaherty, who many of them voted for when he
teamed up with Sam Yoon in the '09 mayoral race?
Connolly's base in West Roxbury follow his advice to return all four
incumbents, or do they give a vote to the more familiar Flaherty? And if
so, at whose expense?
--Will black voters give a vote to
Dorcena, along with (in most cases) Pressley and Arroyo, leaving them
only one additional vote? And who gets that vote, if anybody?
could keep adding questions to this list. Honestly, I think it's
possible, in guessing the answers to these questions, to construct a
scenario in which any one of the big five lands in the fifth spot --
although some scenarios are considerably more or less likely than
I believe that Connolly will top the ticket, and Arroyo
will finish second -- and the other three could end up in any order at
I have said all along that I thought Ayanna Pressley is the
most likely of the five to get a rock. But today, from talking to people
in and around the campaigns, and others plugged in around the city, I
think the answers to questions like those above are most likely to play
out in a way that leaves Murphy out.
So if I had to wager right now, I'd predict a final order of 1) Connolly, 2) Arroyo, 3) Flaherty, 4) Pressley, 5) Murphy.
level of confidence in any of that remains low, so I would not be at
all surprised to be wildly wrong about any of that. But at least the
weather should be nice.