Boston win for McCain? Not likely

John McCain, regardless of his performance nationally, is going to lose Dorchester, Boston, and Massachusetts.

That makes him no different than Republican presidents back to Ronald Reagan - who, at least in part due to a near-mythic swing into the Eire Pub in 1984, connected with the blue-collar Democrats that often swing elections in these precincts. Both Bushes had their Stetsons handed to them here.

McCain, though, offers a broader appeal to traditionally Democratic voters because of his highly touted willingness to do battle with his own party on issues like campaign finance reform, global warming, and immigration policy. With a biography that includes endurance under torture in a North Vietnamese POW camp, the Arizona Republican was long positioned for serious crossover appeal.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci, who is more hopeful of a McCain win in battleground New Hampshire than here, called him a natural heir to the "Reagan Democrat" model that has worked for the GOP here in the past.

In addition to McCain's shared narrative with aging, Irish-American veteran Democrats in the city's heaviest voting wards, Cellucci said, "Barack Obama's going to raise taxes, John McCain's going to cut taxes and that has a broad appeal to conservative Democrats."

But McCain, in efforts last year and earlier this year to build his popularity among the Republican conservative rank-and-file, blunted that aisle-crossing appeal by moving to the right on social issues. And Democrats have worked aggressively to align him with President George W. Bush, whose national approval ratings are the lowest of any president since Harry S. Truman left office in 1952, as yet unredeemed by history's lens.

Moreover, in Barack Obama, McCain is stacked against a Democrat who has excited uncommon enthusiasm. Obama conquered major infrastructural disadvantages in the Democratic primary in February, including Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's active support for Hillary Clinton.

Political analysts agree that McCain will likely see his staunchest pockets of support in some of the city's highest voting areas: southeastern Dorchester and Savin Hill, West Roxbury, and South Boston. Regular voters there often lean their ballot-box decisions on conservative social issues and national security concerns, with a premium on experience over potential.

Jean Inman, McCain's campaign chairwoman in Massachusetts, said McCain would likely pick up two types of Boston voters. One type, she said, are voters who key on McCain's experience advantage over Obama, enamored of the elder candidates' service in Congress and in the Navy and leery of Obama's steep rise from community activist to state senator to Democratic nominee.

The second type clumps loyalists from the 2000 campaign.

"Part of our volunteer base here is that group of McCainiacs who eight years ago very much wanted him to be president," Inman said Tuesday. "That would include many unenrolled, independents, and Democrats - because our Republican numbers are so few."

Ah, the McCainiacs. A term produced in these pages in 2000 by now-managing editor William P. Forry, it initially described the working-class Democrats who opted for McCain in 2000 over Bush, including defectors from the Democratic Party who swapped registrations to vote in that year's GOP primary. In patriotic Dorchester, particularly, McCain's war hero story carries heft.

But, perhaps tellingly, Inman couldn't name a Dorchester McCainiac. His navigation of the ideological spectrum since his 2000 run, rendered sharper in the last four years, has mitigated McCain's potential for a Bay State stunner.

Paul Watanabe, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts of Boston, said the "leakage" of Democratic voters to the GOP will occur Nov. 4, but not at anywhere close to the frequency McCain needs to take the city.

"If the question is does a Republican meaning John McCain have a shot at winning in Boston, the answer is no," Watanabe said. "But if the question is does he have a shot at winning a high number of votes, the answer is yes."

The Obama advantage here is evident in combing the government records of political contributions divided between the two candidates.

For instance, according to the Federal Elections Commission, between the beginning of January 2007 and the end of August 2008 residents of the 02122 zip code - roughly, southeastern Dorchester - donated at least $8,069 to Obama. McCain? $772.

Clinton, who was bounced from the Democratic primary months before the end of the reporting period, swept up $9,010, according to the FEC, far more than the other candidates. Mitt Romney, the state's onetime governor, underperformed all three.

In 02124, McCain was shut out, save for the generosity of Michael Whall, a retired mortgage underwriter, according to the FEC. Obama scooped up $18,450 from those neighborhoods.

Federal campaign finance records do not provide an exact account of residential donations, because contributors can list their work addresses, but instead provide a sample of local sentiment.

For McCain, who has not made any pretense of trying to wrest the Bay State from its perch in the blue column, the affinity for Clinton and lingering bitterness over the Democratic primary could allow him to pull some of her supporters to his side.

Boston City Councillor John Tobin said the West Roxbury neighborhood he represents, traditionally more conservative than most of the city, has numerous McCain supporters. In particular, he said, voters above 60 years old and veterans have a higher tendency to back the Arizonan.

"Obviously, Sen. McCain has an appeal to them, just because of age and because of what he did for the country," Tobin said last week. "I think Obama has an appeal to them, a John F. Kennedy appeal to a lot of folks. And that, coupled with what's going on with the war and the economy, and whether that's George Bush's fault or not, McCain has to wear some of that."

And Tobin, too, sees a drop-off for McCain from eight years ago.

"People who followed him then thought he was a true maverick," Tobin said. The implication is that McCain has shed some of that luster.

Asked if Dorchester and Boston are lost causes for McCain, Inman adopts the pugilistic stance her candidate favors.

"In my line," she said, "there is no such thing as a lost cause. There just isn't. Remember, we're Republicans in Massachusetts. We have to be fighters."

Jim O'Sullivan, a former news editor of the Dorchester Reporter, is a staff reporter for the State House News Service.


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