Running in the Political Fall Classic

With the summer finally over, very little is clear about the two contests Bostonians care about most: the campaign for governor and the race for the American League pennant.

Back in June, most locals felt secure that the Red Sox were on their way to the division title, while local mainstay John R. Silber--president of Boston University--was well out of the running to succeed Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.

Indeed, Silber was smarting from a humbling defeat at the state Democratic convention on June 1-2, just as the Sox were taking the lead away from the pesky Toronto Blue Jays. And by mid-summer, when the boys at Fenway were padding their cushion atop the American League East, Silber was wallowing deep in the polls.

But in the past few weeks, Bay State karma has defected from the Red Sox and settled instead on the pugnacious "straight shooter." And just when the Sox fell from first place, polls showed Silber finally within striking distance of the Democratic Party's frontrunner, former state attorney general Francis X. Bellotti.

"Most of us thought it was going to be single-digit, but that Bellotti was going to win," says Hale Champion, a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government.

In the end, Silber suprised everyone--probably even himself--with a nine-point victory in Tuesday's primary. And now only William F. Weld '66--the Republican nominee--stands between him and the State House.

So for local pundits, the question has become whether Silber's victory in the primaries can propel him to another victory over Weld in November, or whether he will fall prey to the same fickle winds of fortuity that have doomed the Red Sox in recent days.

Of course, this is Boston, and nobody's making final predictions--about either the Sox or Silber. But the politicos, at least, are eyeing a few factors they say hold the key to the fall's fortunes.

.Angry Voters--After watching taxes spiral upward and Massachusetts' credit rating plummet, the public vented its collective spleen last Tuesday by voting across the board against incumbents and anyone else connected with the current administration.

There is "a serious protest vote out there," says Louis DiNatale of the University of Massachusetts at Boston. "The out's won, the in's lost."

Indeed, this "protest" helped catapult both Silber and Weld over their primary opponents.

Although Silber has at times been linked to such "establishment" politicians as former Boston Mayor Kevin P. White and current state Senate president William M. Bulger, Silber has thus far successfully run as an outsider to state politics. As Pierre Robert, a Bellotti spokesperson, admitted on Wednesday, Silber rode the crest of an "angry reaction" to pull off the upset.

Weld, too, has portrayed himself as a Beacon Hill outsider, apparently with great success. He has attacked Democratic mishandling of finances, and, on his campaign leaflets, boldly asked voters if they have "Had Enough Yet?"

So now, the question becomes who is the bigger "outsider": Silber or Weld? Nobody knows for sure, but most experts agree that in this election, the candidate who finds the outside track will be the one to win.

.Momentum--Both Weld and Silber overcame what had once seemed like daunting leads and leafrogged their opponents in the final days before the primary. Now, experts say the task for both Silber and Weld is to keep that momentum going until November.