The Democratic gubernatorial primary in Massachusetts involved more than the clash of two men--an incumbent governor and his running mate of two years ago. It brought to the surface deep-seated rivalries in the state's politics and probably decisively improved the chances of the Democrats in November.
The two men--Francis X. Bellotti and Endicott Peabody--and their records are one key to the primary election. In 1949 Endicott Peabody left the party of his class, the party of Cabots, Lodges, and Saltonstalls, to join the party of Devers, Furcolos, and Kennedys. After losing the gubernatorial primary in 1960, Peabody refused to support the nominee and earned the enmity of many party men. In 1962, Peabody became governor in an election where the outcome remained in doubt for several days. With this uncertain mandate, Peabody urged needed reforms of the state's archaic constitution. He proposed increased power for the governor and the abolition of the Governor's Council. In his legislative program, Peabody asked for a large income tax increase to pull the state out of a financial hole.
Most controversial of all, he advocated the abolition of the death penalty. Peabody pushed too hard and with too little tact for his program. As a result, most of it was defeated in the legislature.
Bellotti, by contrast, consolidated his influence in the party as Peabody steadily lost support. A virtual unknown outside party circles two years ago, Bellotti artfully steered his way through the split in the party between the Kennedy and McCormack factions and gained the nomination for lieutenant governor over the incumbent, McLaughlin. Since the governor and lieutenant governor do not run as a ticket in Massachusetts, Bellotti put together his own organization and outpaced Peabody in 1962. Bellotti developed working contacts with legislators while Peabody hung aloof. He maneuvered skillfully over shoals on which Peabody ran aground. In fact he was clever enough to have his office's budget increased by $50,000. Aided by these funds he toured the state on, "non-political" inspections.
Although Bellotti and Peabody seemed to work closely at first, a split began to emerge by last December. Bellotti opposed the proposal to abolish the death penalty and, reversing an earlier position, opposed many of the constitutional reforms. In May, without first advising Peabody, Bellotti filed his own legislative program.
In his decision to oppose the incumbent, Bellotti was cold and calculating. Though he is not an articulate politician, he acts with cunning and instinct. In the May primary to elect delegates to the national convention, he ran behind Ted Kennedy but ahead of all other Massachusetts Democrats (including Robert Kennedy). Peabody was fifth. Probably Bellotti calculated that this was the time to run. In 1966, Boston Mayor John Collins would be a strong rival for the nomination. And in May Robert Kennedy's future was uncertain.
Bellotti's move for the party nomination failed badly, however. The usually listless Peabody ordered his party whips to dangle jobs and low-numbered license plates before the corridor politicians at the convention. Peabody won over 80 per cent of the delegates, yet his coalition of factions and baronies began to fragment after the convention.
Though many delegates voted for Peabody, his candidacy did not stir them. As Bellotti began to show himself a strong contender in the polls, many hopped off the Peabody bandwagon. For those who prefer Edward McCormack to Ted Kennedy as party leader, the primary became a contest for prestige between the two factions. Ted Kennedy had strongly endorsed Peabody before the convention and had worked for the incumbent's renomination. Others were swayed by the ambiguous role of Lyndon Johnson. Johnson made no endorsement, as is his policy in intra-party fights; yet behind the scenes, some suggest, Bellotti supporters gained patronage privileges from the President.
In the primary campaign, the strategy of Peabody was quite simple. He ignored Bellotti and with a reason. The polls showed a strong anti-Peabody vote of around 40 per cent. In the four-man primary, Peabody strategists felt this "anti" vote would split and their candidate win. The more Bellotti gathered the anti-Peabody vote, the more Peabody's chances were endangered. In the final week of the campaign, however, Peabody deviated from this strategy. He openly assailed Bellotti and thus made the primary more of a two-man contest.
The upset of Peabody has bolstered the Democrats' chances in November. At least, the strategy of the Republican candidate, John Volpe, has been undermined.
First, Volpe had assumed Peabody would be the nominee. His continuous attacks on Peabody since the convention only strengthened Bellotti. Volpe's best issue--the inaction and inefficiency of the Peabody administration--had been blunted. Second, and more decisive, the Volpe strategy for gathering votes was undone. The outregistered Republican party has had to turn increasingly to candidates like Edward Brooke or John Volpe with ethnic appeal in traditional Democratic districts. But in this election Volpe cannot count on cross-party voting by Italo-Americans.
On Volpe's side are his strong stand against corruption during his administration as governor between 1960 and 1962. In addition, any division in the Democratic party may work to his advantage. Yet Peabody has been quite willing to campaign for Bellotti and has worked to prevent any permanent split.
But the overriding question in the gubernatorial election will be the margin of victory of the Johnson ticket. For moderate Republicans throughout the East, Goldwater is a cross to bear; Volpe's problem is to avoid crucifixion on a cross of gold.