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Weld Regroups After Loss

Former U.S. Attorney Turns Eye to September Primary

By Erik M. Weitzman

Things are looking good for House Minority Leader Steven D. Pierce (R-Westfield).

To judge by all the outward sings, Pierce is poised to break away from his sole remaining rival, former U.S. Attorney William F. Weld '66, in the Republican gubernatorial primary next September.

Earlier this month. Pierce scored a key victory over his more moderate rival at the state Republican convention, collecting the votes of an impressive "supermajority" of the delegates and earning the official party endorsement. Fundraising is up, and polls show him pulling far into the lead. The most recent, cited in The Boston Sunday Globe, showed Pierce receiving support from 46 percent of primary voters compared to 21 percent for Weld.

But despite Weld's underdog status, many campaign observers maintain that the contest is far from over. Weld still commands vast financial resources, and has enough influential allies to ensure him a place as a serious contender in the primary.

With some of the key financial backers of President Bush's 1988 presidential campaign--among them state GOP finance chair Peter Senopoulos--Weld backers say they have strong support from the Republican organization.

According to running mate Sen. Paul Celucci(R-Hudson), the bulk of the state's Bush backers now support Weld, among them Nancy Bush Ellis, the president's sister; key Bush finance committee members such as David Place and Howard Hestnes; State Rep. Richard Tisei (R-Wakefield), co-chair of the state Bush campaign; and Cellucci himself, who served as the Bush campaign chair.

"We basically have the entire Bush organization in Massachusetts behind us," said Weld spokesperson Ray Howell.

If that support remains loyal, campaign analysts say that Weld could close the gap by September.

"Two resources you need for an underdog to pull off an upset victory are time and money," said Todd Domke, an independent Republican consultant. "With six months to go, a Weld campaign that could spend one-and-a-half to two million dollars in a primary can't be counted out."

Pierce's 25-point lead in the polls, analysts say could well evaporate as the campaign goes on. According to the Globe's poll, 30 percent of voters are undecided and 58 percent of Pierce supporters might change their minds by the fall. "It's very soft support," said Gerry Chervinsky, head of KRC Communications Research, the firm conducting the poll.

But the official party endorsement clearly means that Pierce's fundraising power is on the rise. Having won a supermajority, Pierce has all the resources of the Massachusetts GOP at his disposal. Although state law only allows the Republicans to give the Pierce campaign $3000, Pierce has access to the party's donor file which includes over 40,000 contributors, said Alexander T. Tennant '74, state GOP executive director.

"It will be a big boost to his campaign financially," said Tennant, who said Pierce will receive a free mailing to all donors and gets use of the party's printing press and folding machines. Pierce can also use party staff to assist him in issue research, Tennant said.

And if Weld is to pull off a victory in September, he will need to alter his campaign style significantly, Campaign analysts say.

Before the convention, Weld attempted to played up his pro-choice stance as a sign of his electability statewide. But noting that polls have ranked abortion only 8th in the top 10 issues Republicans see facing the state, Chervinsky said Weld would do better to focus his attention on the top issues--economy, education, taxes and crime.

"He needs to stress his conservatism with law enforcement and fiscal issues instead of making narrow arguments about electability," Domke said.

In the face of recent developments, the Weld campaign has already begun restructuring in order to meet the challenge.

Newcomer Stephen Tocco, who joined the Weld campaign a week before the convention, said he will take on the role of general consultant, thus essentially providing campaign manager John Moffitt with a comanager.

"We're probably going to pull this off as a joint venture," Tocco said, explaining that he would handle organization, allowing Moffitt to concentrate on packaging Weld's positions.

Tocco added that Tisei, currently Weld's campaign chair, plans to expand his involvement in helping direct the campaign.

"Richard is seriously considering taking a more active role in the campaign and that would be welcomed," Tocco said.

Howell would not comment in detail on the changes, except to say that there have been no final decisions.

But despite the campaign shakeup, Weld backers remain optimistic, maintaining that they expected a strong anti-abortion lobby to cost them votes at the convention. The primary, they say, will be a different race.

"Spring training is over. Pierce won the grapefruit league," said Celluci. "Now we're into the regular season. I don't see the dynamics of the primary changing very much."

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