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.

"In a political campaign, momentum means a lot," says Charles Royer, director of the Kennedy School's Institute of Politics.

In fact, he says, it may mean everything.

.Negative Campaigning--The early polls on Tuesday showed that voters generally preferred either Republican candidate--Weld or House Minority Leader Steven D. Pierce--to any of the three Democrats running for governor.

This is not altogether surprising, given that the three Democratic contenders spent most of the last few months "decapitating each other in public," in the words of Royer. He says it comes as little surprise that Silber would emerge from the primary campaign badly burned with negative images.

The Republicans, meanwhile, ran a more civil campaign. Pierce and Weld never stooped to the name-calling of Bellotti, Silber and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy. As a result, Weld enters the final leg of the race relatively unscathed.

But with a good six weeks to go before Election Day, there is plenty of time to scar Weld, too, and Royer says the Republicans cannot afford to relax a bit. For instance, Silber is sure to attack Weld on his wealth, blue-blooded background.

Whether Weld can return the rhetorical volley, he says, remains to be seen.

.Party Support--Of weightier import to the Silber camp, however, is the dearth of support their candidate will likely receive from Bellotti supporters, 75 percent of whom said they would rather abandon their party than cast a vote for Silber.

DiNatale says Silber could well offend the "Victorian sensibilities" of the "whale-saving, brie eating yuppies" who make up 80 percent of Massachusetts liberals. According to DiNatale, these folks just won't go for the constant slurs against interest groups and minorities that have made Silber famous at both B.U. and on the campaign trail.

And because of that factor alone, DiNatale says "my instinct would say you have to give the advantage to Weld."