State GOP, Democrats juggle topsy-turvy political primary
BOSTON >> One of the most telling numbers to come out of the presidential primary in Massachusetts actually came to light before any votes were cast: 20,000.
That's how many Massachusetts Democrats left the party ranks since Jan 1. in the lead up to the Super Tuesday contests.
While much of the focus since Tuesday has been on the handwringing among Republican leaders in Massachusetts over Donald Trump's commanding win here — starting with Gov. Charlie Baker — there are worrying signs for Democrats in the decision of so many to walk away from the party in what's generally considered a reliably Democratic state.
Secretary of State William Galvin, himself a Democrat, attributed the mini-exodus to a voter fascination with Trump.
"The nature and tenor of the Republican contest, both here in Massachusetts and throughout the country, is very different from almost any Republican event we've seen in recent times," Galvin said.
A small number of those voters, about 3,500 — enrolled as Republican. The majority, however, opted not to enroll in any party. That allowed them to pull a Republican or Democratic ballot for the primary.
Republicans also shed voters in Massachusetts, with nearly 6,000 leaving the party to become independent.
The departures are part of a decadeslong trend that has seen independent voters — those not enrolled in any party — become the majority of voters in the state.
Despite the trend, no one is suggesting that Massachusetts, which is typically one of the most solidly Democratic states during a presidential election, could suddenly become a swing state in November.
On Tuesday, the combined total of Democratic votes cast for candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — about 1.2 million — was almost double the total votes for all the Republican candidates combined — about 630,000. And the last Republican presidential candidate to win a general election in Massachusetts was Ronald Reagan in 1984.
No public official in Massachusetts has been more caught in the political crosswinds than Baker.
The moderate Republican jumped into the fray by endorsing Chris Christie just days before the New Hampshire primary.
Christie went on to a disappointing finish, dropped out of the race, and then endorsed Trump — the same candidate Baker had faulted for not having the "temperament and the sense of purpose" to be president.
During the course of the past week, Baker went from saying he wouldn't vote for Trump during the Super Tuesday contest to saying he wouldn't vote for Trump in November, even if he won his party's nomination.
That puts Baker at odds with a huge swath of Republican and Republican-leaning voters in Massachusetts, who gave Trump almost half of all votes cast in the GOP primary here.
A clearly exasperated Baker, who says he's focused on his day job, walked away from reporters on Thursday after fielding a handful of questions about former Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney's scathing takedown of Trump.
The state Republican Party also used kid gloves when talking about — or not talking about — the GOP presidential front-runner.
After the Super Tuesday voting concluded, MassGOP Chairman Kirsten Hughes sent out a written statement "to congratulate and thank all of our Republican candidates on successful and energetic campaigns."
The only candidate Hughes mentioned by name in the statement was Hillary Clinton.