Thursday, December 12, 2013

Worthy Opposition

Confession #1: We two Republicans called in to the Juliette Kayyem Tele-Town Hall last night.

(Hey, they weren't checking party registration at the "door." So, we figured we should hear what she had to say. Market research, I guess you could call it.)

Confession #2: We were impressed.

Before we get to the specifics, we want to set the record straight. We are firmly Republican. We vote Republican, and our views fall pretty solidly in the GOP column. And, with all due respect, we definitely won't be caucusing with the Democrats in 2014.

But we also aren't beyond admitting when a candidate -- of any stripe -- is doing something cool.

So, we're not at all ashamed to say that, as far as we're concerned, if Kayyem's performance on her Tele-Town Hall last night is an indication of how she'll run, Martha Coakley and Steve Grossman had better get their game faces on.

Kayyem started the call with what seems to be her stump speech, a story about how her grandmother would carry her immigration papers in a Ziploc baggie wherever she went. It's a nice story (although I'm admittedly a sucker for grandmother stories) and it appears it wasn't written just for the campaign trail. She mentions the Ziploc baggie in this Boston Globe column from 2006.

After her intro, the Tele-Town Hall host (sounded like a campaign staffer) said Juliette would take questions and said they would be conducting a poll asking whether callers would be caucusing for Kayyem (a "press one" or "press two" deal). Maybe we're just wide-eyed Tele-Town Hall newbies, but this struck us a pretty good way for candidates to get some intel on how they're doing and interact with likely votes in a pretty controlled manner (we're guessing that the questions were screened pretty well before they got to Kayyem).

She fielded questions on the environment, standardized testing, and how she differed from the other Democratic candidates she's running against. It came across as unscripted, and whether it was or it wasn't, they pulled it off pretty well.

Here's the thing: Kayyem is usually labeled as a progressive, and we were expecting to hear a lot of that on the call last night, complete with the typical Republican-bashing you hear from people like recently-elected Congresswoman Katherine Clark. But it didn't happen.

In fact, she said the word "Republican" only two or three times, even though she was on a call geared at Democratic primary voters. She didn't pander. When asked by a retired teacher about the problems with MCAS testing and standardized testing in general, Kayyem said she thought some form of standardized testing is necessary.

Kayyem found a way to embrace the Democratic platform, while highlighting her strengths on issues typically embraced by the Republican Party, such as public safety. She spoke about her experience as Massachusetts homeland security chief under Deval Patrick, and specifically her role overseeing the Massachusetts National Guard. For Massachusetts voters used to seeing their governor giving press conferences from The Bunker in Framingham, Kayyem is smart is to get people envisioning her in her winter parka advising drivers to stay off the road.

Kayyem's background allows her to speak credibly on public safety issues, and the fact that she feels comfortable addressing them could be helpful in a state where security weighs heavily on our minds these days. In a recent speech at the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association lunch, she supported a commission to review the Boston Marathon bombing intelligence and response and said Democrats give “short shrift” to growing the state’s defense industry (typically Republican territory.)

Her apparent ability to walk the line on issues without sounding unbearably partisan or like she doesn't have any true positions at all makes her dangerous to her political opponents in a state where unenrolled voters make up the bulk of the registered population.

When you throw in the fact that she is female, is proving to be a proficient fundraiser, knows how to work social media, and has never run before makes us think she could be a real threat to the perceived Democratic primary frontrunners, despite what the most recent polls say. She's new and different, and that counts for something. Just ask Deval 2006. 

And if she makes it through the primary, she will be a very solid and worthy opponent for us Republicans.

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