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Why The Lieutenant Governor's Race Matters (Kinda)

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Democratic lieutenant governor candidates Jimmy tingle and Quentin Palfrey at the party's annual convention.
Sam Doran

Josh Zakim's big win over long-time Secretary of State William Galvin and Jay Gonzalez's thumping of Bob Massie for their party's endorsements may have been the big stories out of this past weekend's Democratic Party convention in Worcester, but dedicated political junkies know not to ignore the party's other contested race: the comparably humdrum lieutenant governor's race.

Why should Democratic delegates, let along casual voters, care much whether the Blue Team puts attorney Quentin Palfrey or comedian-turn-activist Jimmy Tingle up against Gov. Charlie Baker's running mate Karyn Polito in a race the Republicans are heavily favored to win?

Because, in a not-too-distant alternate dimension, Palfrey or Tingle could stand a good chance of becoming a political heavyweight, or even governor under the right circumstances. Massachusetts' lieutenant governor has been elevated to the top job twice in the past 25 years, both due to resignations from the corner office.

Weston resident Palfrey, 44, won a decisive victory at the convention with 58 percent of the vote over Tingle. The former Obama White House science and technology aide comes from a family steeped in the local medical and academic establishment and served as an assistant attorney general before joining the Obama Administration.

It's those local and national connections, as well as his head start in the race, that make Palfrey a more accomplished fundraiser (he has over six times the campaign cash Tingle has) and attractive number two agent for the eventual Democratic nominee.

In Massachusetts, the lieutenant governor becomes permanent acting governor should their boss resign, die or otherwise leave office. Republican Paul Cellucci took over for Gov. Bill Weld in 1997 before winning his own term in 1998. A few years later, Cellucci's LG, Jane Swift, took over when he resigned to become ambassador to Canada.

Running on a major party ticket for a statewide office, no matter how much of an uphill climb the race may be this year, is still good experience. Win or lose, a qualified attorney like Palfrey could be in the mix of Democrats looking to succeed Maura Healey as Attorney General should the popular AG pursue her own political ambitions. Gov. Baker himself has admitted that his 2010 loss to Gov. Deval Patrick was crucial experience for his successful second attempt in 2014.

Cambridge's Tingle, who received 42 percent of delegates, is a well-known entertainer who still needs to convince Democrats that he's serious about public service and capable of taking on the LG's role - whatever the LG's job might actually be.

"Tingle was introduced by former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, also an entertaining guy, who vouched for the candidate's commitment to sense and service. But there was divided opinion on Tingle's lengthy introduction video, which covered his time at and degree from the Harvard Kennedy School, and his even longer speech: many thought he eloquently struck the right balance between humor and gravitas while others in attendance said Tingle lacked the depth need for office, even the maligned LG's post.


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