Massachusetts has a large, and growing, block of independent voters. They call out like a siren to ambitious outsider politicians, ambitious individuals who set out to vanquish partisan politics. These efforts have always ended with the outsider feeling lighter in the pockets, and the state’s two-party system still fully in place.
Jeff McCormick, a Boston businessman and political independent, is the latest candidate to try harnessing Massachusetts’s huge pool of independents. McCormick formally announced his gubernatorial candidacy Tuesday morning, in a YouTube video and tour of the State House press corps. McCormick pitches himself as an independent version of Mitt Romney — a political outsider who has had a good run in the private sector, and wants to parlay it into a stint in the Corner Office.
The 2014 gubernatorial contest is already crowded with CEO’s who would be governor, with Republican Charlie Baker and Democratic state treasurer Steve Grossman both talking up their business resumes. McCormick — who is pledging to pour at least $1 million of his own money into his campaign — adds another voice to this field. He seems to know he needs to fight for elbow room, too. In his interview with the Globe’s Frank Phillips, McCormick threw a sharp jab at Baker, saying, “He’s not an innovator. We need broad solutions. We can no longer take incremental steps.’’
McCormick joins two other independents in the gubernatorial race: Evan Falchuk, who has already pushed roughly $500,000 of his own money into his campaign, and Scott Lively, a conservative minister whose campaign literature talks about spreading “Biblical values without fear or compromise.”
While McCormick positions himself as a new version of Romney, the state’s political history indicates that he’ll be lucky to become the new Tim Cahill. Unenrolled voters now comprise a strong majority of the state’s electorate. They account for roughly 53 percent belong to no party, compared with the Democrats’ hold on 36 percent of voters, and the Republicans’ 11 percent.
Still, the rise of voters who shun party labels hasn’t translated to any electoral success for political outsiders.
Cahill made history by capturing 8 percent of the vote as an independent in 2010; he trailed Baker by 34 points, and lagged 40 points behind Gov. Deval Patrick. Cahill bested the performance of Christy Mihos, who lost to Patrick by 49 points in 2006. And until Cahill came along, Mihos’s middling 2006 performance counted as a high-water mark for third-party gubernatorial hopefuls in Massachusetts. Like McCormick, Mihos made good money as a businessman, and devoted large sums to his campaign. He found it takes more than millions of dollars to turn unenrolled voters into independent votes.
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