Kerry, Weld Drift Toward Center in Senate Race
Lead See-Saws Back and Forth Between Democratic Incumbent and Republican Governor
As Harvard Square wakes from its summer daze over the next few weeks, so will the battle for the U.S. Senate seat held by John F. Kerry, the incumbent Democrat who is opposed by Republican Gov. William F. Weld '66.
The matchup between two of the state's top-ranking politicians has captured the nation's eye, for while both candidates are political moderates, they disagree vehemently on issues where they cannot find common ground.
Kerry, a two-term incumbent, holds the reins to the Commonwealth's ubiquitous network of unions, senior citizens and minorities, while Weld, a libertarian who supports gay rights and affirmative action, received more than 70 percent of the vote in his 1994 re-election campaign against Mark Roosevelt '78.
After trailing Weld over the summer, a poll yesterday by The Boston Globe show Kerry now receiving support from 42 percent of Bay State voters, compared to Kerry's 38 percent. Milton resident Susan Gallagher, a right-wing third-party challenger, is pulling 2 percent.
Kerry campaign officials are massaging the state's liberal network in its post-Labor Day blitz, while Weld is using frequent media splashes to lure independent and moderate voters across party lines.
Familiar partisan campaign images are the norm in the 10 weeks preceding the Nov. 5 election. Kerry is painting Weld as heartless, attempting to capitalize on the high negative ratings of prominent national Republicans.
"You spend more time beating up on welfare than figuring out how you're going to get these people covered.... When you go down there [to Washington] the first vote you cast will be for [Senate Majority Leader] Trent Lott," Kerry said.
Though Weld is careful not to castigate Kerry's popular liberal principles, he has no qualms with labeling Kerry as a traditional tax-and-spend-Democrat with no sense of fiscal responsibility.
"John Kerry's Washington has sabotaged us. We cut taxes, Washington raises them" Weld said.
Despite the charges, neither Kerry nor Weld toes the partisan line.
"In 1995, when every governor in the country was running away from affirmative action, Weld reaffirmed his commitment," said Kennedy School Lecturer in Public Policy Martin S. Linsky.
Weld also parts with many Republicans over abortion, drawing national media attention during the Republican National Convention for his pro-choice statements, in opposition to the party's platform.
Kerry, too, forays into independent policy decisions, seeking to restructure the Social Security Trust Fund--a sacred cow of both parties.
"Everyone who is honest about this knows that by the year 2015 or 2020, it won't work," Kerry said.
He also parted with the Democratic leadership during the 1994 debate over health care, backing a bipartisan plan rather than the one offered by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The Personality Factor
Personality is becoming a critical issue, as the candidates square off in seven scheduled debates.
Many pundits feel Weld's easygoing, spontaneous sense of humor works to his advantage. The former Adams House resident suprised even his staff this summer by jumping into the Charles River after signing a bill to protect the state's water-sheds.
"Personality is a stronger card for Weld than ideology," Linsky said.
Weld has an uncanny ability to use the executive office to gain favorable publicity. "[Weld] got a great lesson from his time in the Reagan administration," said Kerry's media consultant, Michael P. Shea.
Kerry, a Yale graduate, communicates a more sober, senatorial demeanor. In past debates, Kerry found himself explaining the intracacies of the governor's frequent quips.
The senator's attempts to lighten up often cause more substantial problems.
During a live interview with Don Imus, host of a popular national radio program, Kerry claimed that the governor "takes more vacations that the people on welfare"
Kerry spent the following weak dealing with his outraged liberal constituency.
Despite what many are calling a weak start, few pundits are counting him out. "this election is going to be decided in the last week of the campaign," Shea said.
Like a duel between Roger Clemens and Mo Vaughan, the Weld/Kerry race matches two of the most accomplished, visible and popular figures in Massachusetts head to head.
The race has gained substanstial national media coverage, including MTV and "60 Minutes."
Citing the centrist orientation of the candidates, some feel the race is a testing ground for candidates playing to voters sick of the Christian Right and the radical left.
"Its a barometer of the New Democrats and the New Liberal Republicans," Margaret D. Xifaras, a member of the Democratic National Committee, told The Crimson.