Kerry’s money, stature skew apparent 2008 vulnerability

When Massachusetts voters were asked in April whether they thought Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryLobbying world Biden's favorability rating rises while Trump's slips: Gallup Biden to nominate Neera Tanden, Cecilia Rouse to economic team: WSJ MORE (D) should run again in 2008, 56 percent said it was time to give someone else a shot, and only a slight majority of Democrats wanted him to run again.

The Suffolk University poll is one of a number of recent surveys that indicate the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee might be wearing out his welcome in the state. Problems that arguably ruined another bid at the White House appear to have also hurt him at home.

In fact, some analysts see Kerry among the more vulnerable incumbents up for reelection in 2008. Whether that translates to his defeat in 2008, however, is a far different question.

In a state as blue as Massachusetts, the Democratic Party is lined up firmly behind the fourth-term senator. Combine that with the $11 million already in Kerry’s campaign fund, and the task for any challenger is tall.

“The polling that’s out there shows that if he decided not to run, voters would be OK with that,” said Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report. “And he may be vulnerable to a primary challenge, but it’s going to have to be a really serious one.”

Kerry passed earlier this year on a repeat presidential bid and simultaneously announced he would run for a fifth term in the Senate.

He was persona non grata among Democrats in the run-up to the 2006 election after what he called a “botched joke,” in which he said that undereducated people get “stuck in Iraq.” Kerry said it was a reference to President Bush.

While Duffy said the challenge would likely have to come from the left, Suffolk head pollster David Paleologos says the numbers show an opening for a Republican candidate, similar to former Gov. Mitt Romney, who could woo many of the Democratic-leaning independents in the state.

Paleologos, who is also a political consultant, said he expected the poll to be a wake-up call for Kerry, but that things haven’t changed much thus far.

“We haven’t seen Kerry in three months,” Paleologos said. “Maybe he’s saving his guns for next year.”

But those close to Kerry say he is taking his 2008 race seriously and working to build endorsements, money and grassroots support in the state. He raised $1.2 million in the second quarter.

“You always worry when somebody has their name on the ballot against you, and he does worry,” said former state Democratic Party Chairman Philip Johnston.

Kerry’s campaign detailed more than 40 events the senator has attended in the state this year.

“Kerry is running an aggressive reelection campaign in Massachusetts so he can continue to work to end the war and lead the fight to combat global climate change [and] increase pay for our troops and benefits for our veterans,” campaign spokeswoman Amy Brundage said.

The polls include an approval rating stuck at or below 50 percent for the better part of a year, according to SurveyUSA. But the obstacles to a primary challenger begin with the millions Kerry had left over from his presidential bid.

Kerry’s decision to transfer about $7 million of that money to his Senate account helped spur at least one former fundraiser, attorney Ed O’Reilly, to launch a primary challenge.

But O’Reilly is starting with few supporters and a lot to prove in his steep uphill battle to unseat the incumbent, and observers are doubtful about his chances.

O’Reilly said the decision to challenge Kerry “has been like a ping-pong ball in my head,” beginning when Kerry voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq in 2002.

O’Reilly said that vote was politically motivated and believes Democratic consultant Bob Shrum’s recent book proves it. In No Excuses, the adviser to Kerry’s 2004 campaign writes that Kerry had reservations about Bush’s case for war but was concerned about his viability in the presidential election if he voted no.

O’Reilly said he doesn’t plan on having even one-tenth of the money Kerry does, and he doesn’t expect even his friends who have supported Kerry to switch over. Instead, he’s counting on a grassroots uprising.

“[Party activists] all supported him when he announced, and I also don’t want to put any of them in a bad position,” O’Reilly said.

Massachusetts Democratic Party spokesman Matt Demerle said the state party stands fully behind Kerry and that O’Reilly’s candidacy is the first hint of intra-party opposition he’s seen.

Another state Democratic source said Kerry could have been vulnerable to a primary challenge if he hadn’t moved to the left on the war in Iraq.

The source said it was highly unlikely that any member of the state’s Democratic House delegation — several have been waiting many years for a chance at the Senate — would take the leap of a primary against Kerry.

“There could have been a grassroots, lefty, anti-war, [Gov.] Deval Patrick-type challenger, but that didn’t emerge because he did move [on the war],” the source said.

Prospects for a strong challenge from Republicans are also dim. The state is not a top GOP target and is a renowned home to Democratic politics.

Republicans have not been completely shot down by one potential candidate, Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, and they are holding on to a sliver of hope until he squashes it. Schilling toyed with the idea on a radio program several months ago but has said he intends to play baseball in 2008, which would preclude any campaign.

Other rumored potential candidates include former Rep. Peter Blute (R), a talk radio host who served two terms in the House in the mid-1990s.

Neither Blute nor a spokeswoman for Schilling responded to requests for comment.

Businessman Jeff Beatty has already entered the race for the GOP nomination. Beatty took just less than 30 percent of the vote in an under-funded campaign against Rep. Bill Delahunt (D) in 2006.

“The voters in Massachusetts see the same John Kerry that the rest of the country saw when he tried to run for president — liberal and out of touch with his constituents,” said a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Rebecca Fisher.