Election season in Massachusetts features a host of statewide races, but will the reliably blue Berkshires have a role to play?
With Governor Deval Patrick not seeking reelection, five fellow Democrats are seeking to fill his seat, while Charlie Baker, who lost to Patrick in 2010, is looking to turn the governor’s office red. Roughly 37 percent of Berkshire County’s 90,000 registered voters are Democrats, nine percent Republicans and 53 percent unenrolled. Jim Bronson heads the Berkshire GOP. He says you’d be surprised at how much candidates pay attention to the Berkshires even though it represents a small percentage of the state’s 4.4 million registered voters.
“Seventy-five to 100 people at an event for whoever it might be, the odds that you can stand right in front of that candidate and talk to that candidate are excellent,” Bronson said. “So I think some of the best face time happens for residents of the Berkshires.”
Baker and Karyn Polito, who is running with Baker for the vacant lieutenant governor’s seat, have both campaigned in the Berkshires. Bronson says the Berkshire GOP sent 22 delegates, more than usual, to the Republican convention in March in support of Baker, helping him escape a primary fight with Tea Party candidate Mark Fisher by six votes. Bronson says since western Massachusetts is covered by television stations out of Albany, some residents do feel that Boston doesn’t care about the area. But he says statewide candidates are realizing more and more they have to campaign across the entire commonwealth.
“So you look at social media and the candidates might think if one person says a good thing it can impact hundreds more,” he said. “We’d like to also think that in our organization we’ve been really beating the bushes for the last five or more years even stronger to let the folks out here know that there is something besides whoever the Democrats put in front of you.”
Bronson says he expects to start hearing from Republican candidates for other constitutional offices like attorney general, treasurer and auditor after the Democratic field for governor works itself out. Attorney General Martha Coakley and Treasurer Steve Grossman are the frontrunners for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination against Juliette Kayyem, Don Berwick and Joe Avellone. Bronson expects the governor’s race to be Coakley versus Baker.
“Then Grossman can go back to run for Treasurer if he loses the primary if he so chooses to,” Bronson explained. “So we don’t know how some of that will shake out. It could be that it’s all open seats other than Suzanne Bump the auditor.”
Meanwhile, numerous Democratic candidates for statewide office have campaigned in the Berkshires. The largest gathering was a January fundraiser hosted by the county’s Democratic organization, the Berkshire Brigades. Sheila Murray heads the organization. She says it’s important for statewide candidates, many of whom are not from western Massachusetts, to campaign in the Berkshires.
“They’re still going to be on our ballots,” Murray said. “So they need the name recognition and they’re aware that the Boston news doesn’t make it out here.”
Democratic State Representative Smitty Pignatelli of Lenox says the area’s role in statewide politics has increased over the past decade.
“When we started shrinking in population and shrinking in political clout I think that’s when the Berkshire Brigades, and I don’t always agree with the Berkshire Brigades, but I think the fact that they have tried to make it a countywide organization and brought some cohesiveness and unity to the Democratic Party,” said Pignatelli.
Murray says the Brigades, created in 2004, proved how valuable the area’s Democratic vote can be during the June 2013 special election that saw Democrat Edward Markey take the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by fellow Democrat John Kerry.
“When you look at the final map the entire Berkshire County was the most solid blue of the entire state,” said Murray.
The Democratic Convention is June 13 and 14.