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Mining for votes

Candidates flock to Quincy’s coveted political grounds

By Stephanie Ebbert
Globe Staff / August 29, 2010

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QUINCY — Mayor Thomas P. Koch had plenty of political company at his annual community cookout this month: Two candidates for state treasurer, four candidates for Congress, and four legislative hopefuls were in the crowd, shaking hands. A week later, Quincy’s O’Rourke Field drew a similar array: One congressional hopeful, one treasurer candidate, and at least three legislative candidates were shaking hands with Ward 4 residents at a neighborhood cookout.

The city of Quincy — a longtime Democratic stronghold that surprised many by swinging solidly into Republican US Senator Scott Brown’s corner in January — has become some of the most coveted political terrain in Massachusetts this year.

The field is wide open for four seats — district attorney, state senator, state representative, and US representative — and there’s a competitive race for sheriff. With the rare vacancies, fierce competition, and local excitement about the gubernatorial campaign of Quincy native Timothy P. Cahill, political observers expect the liveliest election season and highest turnout since 1992.

As a result, some statewide candidates are spending an inordinate amount of time here, courting voters who are expected to flood the polls for their local favorites. Democrat Suzanne Bump, a longtime Braintree legislator who moved to the Berkshires, set up a campaign office in Quincy for her run for state auditor, as did congressional candidate state Representative Jeffrey D. Perry, a Sandwich Republican. Even Stephen J. Murphy, a city councilor next door in Boston, rented space in Quincy for his campaign for state treasurer.

“The South Shore is critical,’’ said Murphy, who acknowledged that he is hoping to capitalize on Quincy voters’ interest in the more scintillating campaign battles underway here. “The treasurer is one of those races that doesn’t draw a lot of front-line passion. We’re looking at places in the Commonwealth where there are races that do engender passion.’’

Other campaigns have taken notice. Guy Glodis, the Worcester County sheriff and a Democratic candidate for state auditor, has picked up key local political supporters.

“Every time I turn around, Glodis is in Quincy campaigning,’’ joked City Clerk Joseph Shea.

Steve Grossman, a Democratic candidate for treasurer, has the mayor’s backing and is also fre quently spotted here. And last week, the Republican nominee for treasurer, Karyn Polito, a state representative from Shrewsbury, held a fund-raiser and an ice cream social for seniors and campaigned door-to-door.

The city of presidents hasn’t seen a year like this since 1992, when its state Senate seat was open and more than 43 percent of voters went to the polls, said Shea.

The dominoes began falling this year when US Representative William D. Delahunt announced his decision to step down and Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating said he would leave his post to run for Congress. State Senator Michael W. Morrissey, a Quincy Democrat, announced his plans to instead run for the district attorney’s seat and state Representative A. Stephen Tobin said he would leave the House to run for Morrissey’s Senate seat.

Now, Keating and Morrissey split campaign office space in a house on Willard Street, overlooking Interstate 93, just across the street from Murphy’s campaign office. Upstairs in Murphy’s building is the campaign of Norfolk Sheriff Michael G. Bellotti, who is facing a Republican challenger, William Farretta of Weymouth.

Republicans have also jumped into the races for House, Senate, and Congress. “We have a Republican running for state representative,’’ Shea marveled. “We haven’t had Republicans running for state rep since the early 1970s.’’

The city has been squarely Democratic since the 1960s and Republicans are still outnumbered — accounting for less than 10 percent of Quincy’s nearly 55,000 voters. But the majority of voters are unenrolled and showed their strength with the support they gave Brown in the January special election.

Jennifer McCauley Logue, chairwoman of the Quincy Republican City Committee and a daughter of the city’s former Republican mayor, Frank McCauley, said candidates are paying more attention to a city that often was overlooked as “a Democratic blue stronghold.’’

“I think people were really surprised when Scott won Quincy and started saying maybe this is an area we need to stop taking for granted,’’ said Logue. “We’ve just had a ton of activity both on the Republican and Democratic sides.’’

The wild card in this year’s election is Cahill, a former Quincy city councilor and longtime Democrat who left the party to run for governor as an independent. Though his campaign has struggled, Quincy residents and rival campaigns do not question his base here.

“Quite frankly, this go-round, Tim Cahill is the only game in town in Quincy,’’ acknowledged Tarah Breed, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Republican Party.

“I’m blessed to live here. Because when you’re running statewide it’s a phenomenal base,’’ Cahill said. “And it’s a great location. It’s easy to get here from everywhere.’’

Cahill said that he probably is spending less time campaigning in Quincy than other candidates. But he hastened to add that he doesn’t take his hometown for granted — and that candidates do so at their peril.

“It’s important to be seen in Quincy if you want to have an impact,’’ he said. “You really need to target it.’’

With its sturdy middle-class grounding and its diversity, Quincy also offers campaigns a sense of how they are connecting with voters, Cahill said.

“Democrats can’t ignore it and Republicans shouldn’t feel like they don’t have a chance. And I think that’s what draws people to Quincy,’’ Cahill said. “It’s fairly independent, middle class, and they vote the person rather than the party.’’

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at ebbert@globe.com.

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