For many a Mass. politician, a White House dream

Apr 15, 2012, 3:41 PM

Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) – Massachusetts may account for about 2 percent of the nation’s population, but when it comes to nurturing White House dreams, the Bay State is a political boomtown.

Since 1960, at least half a dozen Massachusetts politicians have launched serious campaigns for president, while a handful of others have toyed with the idea.

Three captured their political party’s nomination and one, John F. Kennedy, went on to occupy the office.

The difference this election cycle is that the politician aiming to be the fourth major party nominee from Massachusetts in the past five decades, Mitt Romney, is a Republican.

“You can say that all governors and senators see themselves as potential presidential contenders,” said Boston College political science professor Marc Landy. “What’s perhaps more surprising is how successful Massachusetts politicians have been in making themselves very serious contenders.”

What makes the streak even more unusual is Massachusetts’ reputation as one of the most liberal states in the country.

Timothy Vercellotti, associate professor of political science and polling director at Western New England College, chalks up the string of would-be Massachusetts presidential hopefuls to a number of factors _ from the state’s obsession with politics, to the potential brain power supplied by local institutions like Harvard University and MIT, to its location on the Northeast corridor linking Washington, New York and Boston.

“I’m not sure you can say that there’s something in the water,” he said. “But if you’re thinking of assembling a group of advisers, you have some of the most accomplished advisers right here in Massachusetts.”

The state’s recent run of presidential contenders began in 1960 when then-Massachusetts U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy secured the Democratic nomination on a first ballot and went on to narrowly defeat Republican hopeful Richard Nixon.

Kennedy was the first president to hail from the state since former Republican Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge, then vice president , took the oath of office in 1923 following the death of then-president Warren Harding.

Prior to Coolidge, the state could claim two other chief executives _ John Adams, the nation’s second president, and his son John Quincy Adams, the sixth president.

After Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, his brother, former New York U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, was assassinated in 1968 during his campaign for the White House. And their younger brother, then-U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Democratic president Jimmy Carter for their party’s nomination in 1980.

The loss marked the end of the Kennedy family’s efforts to retake the presidency and paved the way for other Massachusetts candidates who lacked some of the aura and political baggage of the Kennedy clan.

First was former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the son of Greek immigrants, who tried to ride crest of the state’s economic boom of the 1980s, dubbed the “Massachusetts Miracle.” Dukakis secured the Democratic Party’s nomination in 1988 contest, but lost to the Republican nominee, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

Bush also had ties to Massachusetts. He was born in the state, and although his family quickly moved to Connecticut, he later became a student leader at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.

In part, Republicans were able to cast Dukakis as a soft-on-crime liberal from Massachusetts by pointing to his support of a weekend furlough program under which a convicted killer named Willie Horton raped a woman after he failed to return to prison.

Just four years later, another politician of modest means got into the race: former Democratic U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas, who’d left the Senate in 1984 after being diagnosed with the cancer. He looked to jumpstart his candidacy with his fiscal conservatism and the proximity of his hometown of Lowell, Mass., to New Hampshire and its first-in-the-nation primary.

Tsongas failed to secure the 1992 nomination, but Massachusetts wouldn’t have to wait long before another favorite son would thrust himself into a presidential campaign.

In 2003, Democratic U.S. Sen. John Kerry, a Vietnam veteran who first won election to the Senate in 1984, announced his candidacy.

His foes also tried to cast him as a Massachusetts liberal, pointing to his decision to oppose the Vietnam War after being awarded three Purple Hearts for his service in the conflict. He lost the 2004 election to President George W. Bush.

By then, Romney, in his second year as Massachusetts governor, was already laying the foundation for his pursuit of the Republican nomination for the presidency. Despite a hard-fought campaign in 2008, Romney lost the GOP nod to Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain.

But Romney never really stopped running for president.

After the election of Barack Obama , Romney set about trying to position himself as the 2012 GOP nominee _ a mission he’s all but accomplished.

Even though he’s a Republican, Romney has also been dogged by the Massachusetts liberal label, mostly for signing the state’s landmark 2006 health care law, which became the model for Obama’s 2010 national health care overhaul.

Romney has fought back, vowing to repeal the federal law if elected, and at one point declaring himself “severely conservative.”

Since 1960, a number of Massachusetts politicians have also toyed with the idea of running for president, including Republican Gov. William Weld, Democratic Boston Mayor Kevin White and U.S. Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.

Vercellotti said it’s hard not to anticipate the trend continuing, pointing to a handful of current Massachusetts political figures with potential national traction.

Although he’s downplayed any interest in future political office, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has busily been making a national name for himself in part by stumping for Obama, Vercellotti noted.

Vercellotti even pointed to Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren, who has yet to win elected office but is locked in a high profile contest with Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown. Brown was also mentioned as potential future presidential timber after his surprise 2010 special election win for the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Ted Kennedy.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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For many a Mass. politician, a White House dream