Romney, Clinton Lead in Massachusetts

A history in the state may be pivotal in the battle for its delegates.

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. chats with reporters on the press plane in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2008, prior to departing for Arkansas.

Hillary Clinton chats with reporters on the press plane in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. prior to departing for Arkansas.

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Mitt Romney and Sen. Hillary Clinton are the Odd Couple of next Tuesday's Massachusetts primary; although they hail from different sides of the political spectrum, they share a key political advantage in the state: their roots.

Clinton planted her stake in Massachusetts early in her career and has nurtured it since. She attended Wellesley College, just outside Boston, in the late 1960s, and worked for an advocacy group near Cambridge, Mass., in the 1970s. As first lady, the connection went king-size. The Clintons befriended the Kennedy clan, socially and politically, and their alliance produced not only a file of regal-looking photographs of yachting trips and green lawns but also a critically important network of loyal Democrats in Massachusetts.

Romney's ties to the state are more obvious and also more recent. After a failed campaign against Ted Kennedy for U.S. Senate in 1994, he ran in 2002 for governor of Massachusetts, won, and served a single four-year term that ended in 2007.

Not surprisingly, both Clinton and Romney now hold commanding leads in statewide polls ahead of the state's February 5 primary. One recent poll puts Clinton ahead of Sen. Barack Obama in Massachusetts by more than 30 points, 59 percent to 22 percent. The same poll shows Romney up on McCain, 50 percent to 29 percent.

Candidates of both parties have recently put Massachusetts in their Super Tuesday crosshairs, for somewhat different reasons. Democrats see the state's delegate count—121 in total, 93 of which will be awarded on Tuesday—as the sixth-largest bounty to be won on a day of voting that will see more than 20 states up for grabs. For Republicans, the delegate prize from Massachusetts is proportionately smaller, but the state is potentially radioactive: A Romney loss here would be embarrassing.

Still, observers say that neither Clinton nor Romney has an iron lock on his or her respective party's primary, despite the poll numbers and each's biographical marks. On Monday, Ted Kennedy, a longtime Clinton friend, endorsed Obama during a high-profile rally at American University in Washington. Invoking the memory of his brother, former President John F. Kennedy, Senator Kennedy praised Obama as the only candidate in the race who understands "the fierce urgency of now." Obama also has the endorsement of the state's junior senator, John Kerry, as well as the state's Democratic governor, Deval Patrick.

It remains to be seen whether any of these endorsements will translate into actual votes. As a tactical matter, small states tend to be fertile turf for effective ground operations, and the Clinton campaign seems to have the upper hand at this point in Massachusetts. Supporters and staff have been campaigning there for more than a year, and her candidacy has attracted the steady, enthusiastic backing of the majority of the state's local politicians, who frequently volunteer their own personal staff to knock on doors for national politicians. Manpower has been ample, with one Clinton aide noting that the campaign was able to send more than 2,500 Massachusetts staffers north to New Hampshire for the Granite State's January 8 primary.

The Obama camp does not see Massachusetts as unwinnable—Obama gave a speech at Boston University last April to publicly launch his campaign effort in the state—but its operation has been smaller, less vocal, and targeted more toward students and younger voters.

Recent news reports indicate that voter registration is, in fact, booming. William F. Galvin, the secretary of state, recently told a local newspaper that his office fielded "literally thousands of phone calls" from potential voters in early January. But some observers worry that the effort is too little, too late and say that the results of past elections suggest the youth vote is too small to tilt the state in Obama's favor. Exit polls from midterm elections in 2006, for instance, show that 18-to-29-year-olds accounted for only 11 percent of the electorate.

As for the Republican race, McCain is likely to be buoyed somewhat by the state's unique voter makeup. Much was said in early January about the high percentage of registered independents (44 percent) in New Hampshire. But the figure is even higher in Massachusetts: Just over 50 percent of voters, nearly 2 million of them, are registered as "unenrolled," which means they can vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary under the state's "semiclosed" system. By contrast, only 13 percent of the state is registered to vote Republican.