New Englanders look to break 43-year presidential jinx

Sunday, June 8, 2003

WASHINGTON -- It's a New England drought second only to the Curse of the Bambino.

It has been 43 years since a candidate from the Northeast won the presidency. That was Democrat John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Since then, just one -- former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis -- has won his party's presidential nomination. The Democrat lost in 1988 to George H.W. Bush.

The region's White House streak still falls far short of the 85 years since the Boston Red Sox last captured the World Series and the 83 years since the team invoked the curse by trading Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.

Three men -- Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean -- hope to end the political drought in 2004. If history is any judge, their Oval Office odds are steep.

"The conventional wisdom is they're too liberal to win, and that Yankees don't play well down South," said Doug Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Could someone from New England win? I don't know. But just because it hasn't happened doesn't mean it won't."

Kerry, Lieberman and Dean are from states that ring New Hampshire, which holds the first primary in January.

While all are expected to do well there, the political terrain gets rougher as they head to primaries in the South and West. As New Englanders, they will have to overcome liberal stereotypes, regional biases and a geographical base that can muster just 34 electoral votes. The six-state New England total, in fact, equals the number of electoral votes in Texas, President Bush's home state.

"Michael Dukakis got painted into the liberal New England mold and couldn't get out of it," said Garrison Nelson, a political science professor at the University of Vermont.

Kerry, who was Dukakis' lieutenant governor, could face a similar problem, said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

"A liberal Massachusetts politician probably isn't going to do really well across the country if they're portrayed as another liberal New England Democrat like Ted Kennedy," Smith said.

Edward Kennedy, Massachusetts' senior senator, dismisses that argument.

The opposition will try to paint Kerry as a liberal, he said, but "the mass media exposes candidates in a very short period of time. People have a chance to hear the candidates interviewed, and that situation will show John to be a very strong candidate."

Lieberman and Dean backers are equally optimistic.

"There'll be people who will try to make something of regionalism, but I don't think people vote regionally," said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who supports Lieberman. "If you're a good candidate, I can take you to any southern state and ... if you're talking about things people understand and care about, I think you can win."

Steve Grossman, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, is backing Dean and said energy, not geography, matters.

"Democrats were largely dispirited" after Al Gore's loss, he said. "They're looking for someone who can best energize the Democratic base."

Kennedy, like many other Red Sox fans, is optimistic that 2003 could be Boston's year.

"The Red Sox are doing very well these days," he said. "I think the gods are smiling on New England this year, on both the Red Sox and John Kerry."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: