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Just Going Through the Motions: The Ford and Carter Campaigns in Massachusetts

By Jonathan H. Alter

Jimmy Carter's Massachusetts campaign against President Ford is sort of like the Harvard-Cornell football game--but the Carter people have a contingency plan ready in case of bad weather.

The Carter folks are organizing with such gusto, in fact, you might think that Massachusetts is a state where the race is as close as the battle for the Ivy League championship instead of the only one the Democrats carried the last time around.

Joe Restic can only lament that the Crimson was not so carefully prepared to avoid an upset.

"We're running as if it's dead even," Frank Conley, deputy Massachusetts campaign director in charge of field organization, said last week, repeating Carter's own statement that the "only polls I'm concerned about are the polls on election day."

Nevertheless, a recent Boston Globe poll showed Carter leading in Massachusetts by a comfortable 14 points.

Even in admitting that only an "incredible, incredible blunder" by the candidate could cost him Massachusetts, Ed Jesser, the campaign press secretary, stresses that Carter is running a full-scale operation here.

The evidence seems to bear him out. Because Massachusetts is a "medium priority state" for Carter, the state campaign was allocated only $88,000, "not enough to finance a congressional race," as one staffer puts it. But by tapping statewide Democratic organizations, Conley has set up close to 90 city and town headquarters, plus dozens of smaller offices, at little or no expense to the campaign.

Our organization is in place and now all efforts are going towards getting out the vote," Conley says, adding that he has prepared the same bad weather contingency plan he employed when helping Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) win the snowy Massachusetts presidential primary.

Efforts to encourage the black community to get out and vote are particularly intense. The national campaign is financing only two headquarters in Massachusetts and one of them is in Roxbury. Rep. Andrew Young (D-Ga.) officially opened the office there last month, telling workers that "the ones who say 'my vote don't count' are the very ones who are unemployed, who are suffering."

Buttons showing Carter clasping hands with the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. and signs chastising the seven million blacks who did not vote in 1972 highlight the attention being paid to black voters--90 per cent of whom are expected to vote for Carter if they go to the polls. In addition to Young, Georgia state representative Julian Bond has appeared in Boston to encourage voter turnout.

For the most part, however, visits to Massachusetts by party bigwigs have been few and far between during the campaign. Carter showed up with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54 (D-Mass.) on the last day of September, and Sen. Walter F. Mondale (D-Minn.) and the candidates' wives passed through earlier, but schedulers for the most part must now rely on local figures to stir up enthusiasm.

Although it may lack excitement, press secretary Jesser disagrees with the contention that the Bay State Carter campaign lacks enthusiasm. He stresses that the campaign has 3000 volunteers, adding that the only place a big lead in the polls can hurt a campaign is in fundraising, which is prohibited after the summer conventions anyway.

With no candidate to schedule, no money to raise and only a few ads to buy--the bulk of Carter's commercials are broadcast nationally--most of the state effort goes towards field organization. But campaign workers must channel their energies in other directions as well.

Ellen Eskind '79 rises at 4 a.m. every morning to start feeding tape from the "Carter-Mondale Radio News Network" to stations across New England and New York. The network, financed by the national campaign, takes "news, not propaganda" clips from the Democratic candidates' statements and sends them free to hundreds of stations, many of which put them on the air, Eskind, regional co-director of the project, says.

Fred Bauman, a third-year Harvard Law School student, is helping coordinate Carter organizations in 30 college campuses across the state. Contrary to reports of low student interest in the campaign, Bauman says the response has been very encouraging.

Massachusetts also has an active chapter of Carter's "Committee of 51.3 Per Cent," (the percentage of women in the U.S. population). Co-chaired by Kitty Dukakis, the Governor's wife, the group bears little resemblance to the stamp-licking "ladies auxiliary" groups of past campaigns. Instead, the committee, composed of women leaders including Radcliffe President Horner, concentrates on convincing women to vote for Carter because of his support of legislation helpful to women and "sensitivity to (their) needs."

But if the women's groups have coalesced behind Carter's Massachusetts campaign, the same cannot necessarily be said for Boston's political factions. One Boston politician, who wishes to remain unidentified, notes a lingering antagonism between backers of Mayor Kevin H. White and those who support State Sen. Joseph Timilty, the mayor's last challenger.

Disagreement arose, the politician said, not over support for Carter but over who would operate the Massachusetts campaign. Timilty, an early support of Carter, is now running the Georgian's Pennsylvania campaign, but many of his people are active in the Massachusetts effort.

Carter press secretary Jesser, who did press work in the Timilty campaign as well, denies that a White-Timilty split has affected the Carter campaign. Citing several former White staffers now working for Carter, he terms relations between the two groups "good natured." "We take shots at them (White supporters) and they take shots at us," Jesser says.

If Carter staffers are pressed to discuss campaign problems, most list the money shortage and difficulties presented by the new federal election laws rather than internal divisions. The new laws have caused general confusion about what kinds of organizations can do what sorts of things on Carter's behalf. Labor unions, for instance, must closely adhere to federal standards about soliciting votes. Supervising adherence to the laws has become one of the campaign's chief responsibilities.

But despite all the supervising, all the organizing, all the leafleting and all the statements to the contrary, there must be some underlying feeling among Carter workers that the campaign in Massachusetts is just going through the motions. No Republican besides Eisenhower has triumphed here since 1924; McGovern won handily; the Bay State GOP is in disarray.

After the 1972 election, Massachusetts cars began sporting bumper stickers saying "Don't Blame Me, I'm From Massachusetts." If Jimmy Carter loses on November 2, he certainly won't be able to blame his Massachusetts campaigners. It may look like a local landslide, but that may be just what Carter wants

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