In the run-up to Tuesday’s Boston mayoral election, many observers thought Marty Walsh would cruise to an  easy victory. Instead, the outcome was tantalizingly close – leaving John Connolly and his supporters pondering whether things could have ended differently. 

After he conceded defeat Tuesday night, John Connolly stepped off the stage at the Westin Copley and gamely took questions from the press. I asked Connolly if he’d lost due to structural forces that were just too potent to overcome -- including massive outside spending from pro-union groups backing his opponent, Marty Walsh. Here’s Connolly’s answer: 

"I don’t know. I mean, listen. We came really close. And I just think, the only thing I’ve heard pundits say is that I should have gone negative. I was never going to go negative. I wanted my campaign to be about ideas and vision, and I’m glad we ran it that way. And you know what, I think Marty Walsh will do a good job, and I respect the voters’ choice."

That response fits the pointedly upbeat tone Connolly struck last night. Still, the fact remains: outside groups backing Walsh outspent similar groups supporting Connolly by a huge margin. Connolly had urged Walsh to embrace a so-called “People’s Pledge,” that would have kept that spending out of the race. Walsh refused.

What’s more, Connolly lost the endorsement game. While he was backed by some prominent African-American ministers, Walsh got the coveted nods of several big-name politicians and candidates of color – including former mayoral rivals Charlotte Golar Richie, Felix Arroyo, and John Barros.

Connolly supporter Bob Markel thought between those nods and all that union support – Walsh was tough to beat:

"Clearly, that didn’t hurt him at all. And I guess it was a bit of a surprise to all of us who were watching closely, that the prominent minority candidates all aligned with him. So I think that’s the combination that I think put it together for him."

And then there was the L-word. While Connolly is a former teacher, and focused aggressively on education as a Boston city councilor, he’s also an lawyer. During the mayor’s race, both Walsh and his surrogates pointed to that choice of profession to paint Connolly as an out-of-touch elitist.

Tim Schofield is Connolly’s campaign co-chair and his former legal partner. He said those attacks were frustrating – but not decisive.

"It’s not that it’s because he’s a lawyer. I think they got some traction with the idea, you know [long pause], Marty may be more connected with some neighborhoods in the city. He’s a working class guy. And I think that got some traction in some neighborhoods. But I don’t think it came down to, 'John’s a lawyer'."

So to recap: Connolly’s opponent had massive union backing, landed a bevy of key endorsements, and played the class card adroitly – and Connolly still barely lost. You might think that would have him gearing up for another mayoral run in four years. But last night – that seemed like the furthest thing from Connolly’s mind.

"I have only thought through about 8 pm tonight. At this point I’m one foot in front of the net, so. I’m going to my city council meeting tomorrow. That’s it."