Why So Many Massachusetts Politicians Run for President

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/02/21/why-so-many-massachusetts-politicians-run-for-president/

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker says he won’t run for president.

Around here, he may be the only one.

In some states, it’s safe to assume prominent politicians won’t try for the Oval Office. But not Massachusetts.

While only four Massachusetts politicians have served as president — John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge, and John F. Kennedy — the Bay State has produced a disproportionate number of presidential candidates. Especially lately.

The 2020 presidential race, for instance, drew four Massachusetts politicians to a major party’s primaries. Two have dropped out (U.S. Representative Seth Moulton and former Governor Deval Patrick) while two are still in it (U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Governor Bill Weld).

What makes Massachusetts pols so sure they belong in the Oval Office?

“We eat, drink and sleep politics,” former Governor Michael Dukakis told New Boston Post in an email message.

Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic nominee for president, is one of a deep bench of Massachusetts elected officials whose candidacies for the Oval Office drew national attention. In backwards chronological order:

In 2012 and 2016, the Green Party ran Lexington resident Jill Stein.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was the Republican Party’s nominee in 2012 and a major candidate for his party’s nod in 2008.

In 2004, then-Senator John Kerry was the Democratic Party’s nominee.

Going back a little further, former Senator Paul Tsongas sought the Democratic Party’s nomination in 1992 (and was Bill Clinton’s last serious challenger). Eight years before Dukakis ran in 1988, then-Senator Ted Kennedy primaried then-incumbent President Jimmy Carter in 1980 (and briefly was ahead in the polls).

And way back in 1964, former Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. won the New Hampshire Republican primary as a write-in candidate.

Then there are the politicians who spent their early years in Massachusetts before making their names elsewhere.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who dropped out of the 2020 presidential race, grew up in Cambridge. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is still in the race, grew up in Medford. Former New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was born in Brookline and spent summers on the Cape, was a leading contender for the Democratic Party’s nomination in 1968 before he was shot to death.

Former President George H.W. Bush, the winner in 1988 and loser in 1992, was born in Milton, although he grew up in Connecticut.

Why Massachusetts?

At 15th, Massachusetts is barely in the top third of states in population. At 44th in area, it’s the seventh smallest state, and it sits at the far northeastern edge of the country.

One key is how politically oriented Massachusetts people tend to be.

As Statista notes, Massachusetts ranked 10th in voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election (65.35 percent) – second highest of the noncompetitive states.

“Although we are lopsided in our partisan leanings here — it’s an overwhelmingly Democratic state — politics is fairly competitive here and people take it seriously,” said Peter N. Ubertaccio, a political scientist at Stonehill College, in an interview with New Boston Post. “You end up with politicians who know how to navigate a major media market, a citizenry that takes politics seriously and has a high voter turnout. You have the elements of political culture here that prepare someone for national leadership.”

Population density matters, too. While the city of Boston ranks only 21st in the country in population, Boston has the ninth-largest television media market in the United States, according to MediaTracks Communications.

Massachusetts’s leftward tilt – the state gave Hillary Clinton her biggest margin of victory in 2016 – makes it a likely testing ground for left-leaning Democratic presidential primary voters, says Northeastern University political scientist William Meyer.

“Given the way the contemporary nomination process works, the Democrats like someone who is a tried and true liberal,” Meyer told New Boston Post in a telephone interview. “They’re not interested in someone who is a moderate or sort of liberal. That means because Massachusetts is one of the most liberal states in the country, you can do what John Kerry and Elizabeth Warren and Michael Dukakis all did, which is get elected, be consistently liberal, and not worry about losing in the general election.”

Geography and history also play a role.

 “Massachusetts has a long tradition of cultivating political talent that dates back to the nation’s founding,” said Costas Panagopoulos, chairman of the Department of Political Science at Northeastern University, in an email message. “The talent pool is highly-educated, well-informed about public policy, idea-driven and often at the forefront of political innovation.”

“These qualities often help politicians seeking the presidency,” he added. “The fact that neighboring New Hampshire plays such a critical role in the nomination process also provides a boost to prospective White House contenders.”

Meyer agrees.

“New Hampshire likes to cast itself like they really take the measure of all of these candidates because they get to see them up close,” he said. “What that neglects to mention is that they have had a fondness for candidates from neighboring states. Most of the beneficiaries of that Homer effect are from Massachusetts.”

As New Boston Post has noted, there is a track record of Massachusetts (and Vermont) politicians winning the New Hampshire primary — a must if they want to earn their party’s nomination.

And yet while Massachusetts politicians have often made a splash nationally, they usually don’t win. The last Massachusetts resident to be elected president was Jack Kennedy in 1960 – 60 years ago this November.

The four Massachusetts politicians who became president. From top left clockwise, with the year of their election: Jack Kennedy (1960), Calvin Coolidge (1924), John Adams (1796), John Quincy Adams (1824).