The Circus Comes to the Bay State: A Look at the March 1st Primary

The Circus Comes to the Bay State: A Look at the March 1st Primary

With only a few weeks until voting begins for the 2016 presidential primaries, Secretary of the Commonwealth Francis Galvin’s office has released the official ballot listing for the March 1st Massachusetts primaries. Four parties currently meet the definition of a “major” political party in Massachusetts and thus are allowed to hold primaries. Of these four, one, Evan Falchuk’s United Independent Party, is not contesting national elections and thus is fielding no candidates. The other three contain a slew of candidates, including a handful of lesser-known politicos that lack mainstream coverage.


Former Governor of Virginia, 2008 Republican Party Presidential Primary Candidate
Businessman, 2000 Reform Party Presidential Primary Candidate
Texas Senator, Former Texas Solicitor General
Lawyer, Former Governor of New York
2008 Republican Party Presidential Primary Candidate, Former Arkansas Governor
Kentucky Senator, Ophthalmologist
Businesswoman, 2010 Republican Nominee for California U.S. Senate
2012 Republican Party presidential primary candidate, Former Pennsylvania Senator
Governor of New Jersey, Former United States Attorney
Florida Senator, Former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives
Businessman, Former Florida Governor
Governor of Ohio, Former Ohio Congressman

*George Pataki dropped out December 28th but failed to file the paperwork necessary to remove his name from the ballot.

With 13 names on the ballot, the Republican primary will be the most intensely contested race to come out of the night. While Donald Trump currently retains a lead in Massachusetts based on robocalling polls, the Bay State still functions as an opportunity for some of the more moderate of the Trump alternatives to stake ground in a free-for-all in the event The Donald flounders.

Marco Rubio currently sits in second place with enough support to earn him proportional delegation, followed closely by Ted Cruz. There’s also a surprise John Kasich factor, as recent polling from the neighboring state of New Hampshire show a massive jump to 20% similar to Jon Huntsman in 2012. Whether or not that will translates into momentum for him in other moderate states will depend on how the field changes following February, but there’s a very real inner-party dissatisfaction with the Trump Juggernaut and “Super Tuesday” may be the only real chance of inflicting a lasting blow.

Massachusetts is also somewhat of a touchy subject for the national Republican Party, who may feel inclined to tread carefully. Something that many voters go without knowing is that Massachusetts has a two part process for selecting both Republican and Democratic delegates. The March 1st primary will establish who gets the delegates, but the April 30th caucus will establish who gets to become the delegates.

In 2012, a coalition of conservatives, libertarians, and Ron Paul supporters mounted a strong bid against Mitt Romney’s delegate slate and swept the caucuses with a super majority. In turn, the Massachusetts Republican Party engaged the “Ronald Reagan Liberty Slate” in a legal clash which led to their being disinfranchised. This, coupled with a delegate walk-out and the RNC rules changes– seen as unpopular by many conservatives and libertarians both, left a foul taste in the mouth of a number of the 2012 Republican delegates, and these same delegates, now primarily behind Rand Paul, are sure to be out in full-force for a rematch.

With 42 delegates at stake, 27 of which will be divided proportionally, this state will surely be seen as valuable for the wing of the Republican Party chanting for a brokered convention, as well as those seeking to change the party platform.


Vermont Senator, Former Vermont Congressman
Former Maryland Governor, Former Mayor of Baltimore
Former Secretary of State, Former New York Senator
Businessman, 1992 Democratic Convention Delegate

The Democratic primary has had relatively little polling conducted in New England with the exception of New Hampshire. The few polls that have been conducted in Massachusetts, courtesy of Suffolk University and Overtime Politics, both show Clinton with a confident lead in the double digits. Looking at the results of the last three presidential elections, Massachusetts has traditionally sided with the “establishment” candidate as a final outcome.

In 2008, Hillary Clinton was able to parry Senator Barack Obama, and harking back to 2004, Howard Dean, an enthusiastic progressive stalwart, was able to barely lead John Kerry for a brief moment in time before his campaign crashed entering into the Massachusetts primary. Unfortunately for Bernie Sanders, who is shaping up to be the anti-establishment Democrat this cycle, he also lacks the youthfulness and excitement of both Obama and Dean.

Martin O’Malley, polling in the single digits, and businessman Roque De La Fuente, not even recognized by major polling firms, are unlikely to change their standings. If it’s any consolation, in the event of an O’Malley campaign suspension, cross-tabs show a 2nd choice preference to Sanders over Clinton. Considering the jaunty campaign organization that Sanders has been running, and running well, any additional volunteers and voters are sure to go a long way.

One thing that could impact the race in Sanders’ favor is the semi-open primary system that Massachusetts utilizes. Younger voters, first-time voters, and anti-establishment voters, the cornerstone of the Vermont senator’s constituency, are generally unenrolled voters. There’s a certain difficulty in polling such voters, as the sheer number of unenrolled voters in Massachusetts outnumbers both the Republicans and the Democrats. With that in mind, if turnout is low and unenrolled voters pull a Democratic ballot en masse, it’s realistic to believe that Sanders has the slimmest of chances. Regardless, with 59 of the 116 delegates up for grabs in Massachusetts based on proportional voting, Sanders could still walk away with a worthwhile haul.


Green Party Activist
Physician, 2012 Green Party Presidential Nominee
Philosopher, Professor Emeritus of the University of South Carolina
Alternative Energy Advocate, 2012 Green Party Presidential Primary Candidate
Musician, Environmental Activist 

No scientific polling for the Green Party race has been conducted, but informal polling by individual green groups show a strong support for the 2012 standard bearer, Jill Stein. Stein, a Massachusetts resident, comes into the race being no stranger to the world of Bay State politics, having served the Green-Rainbow Party as a candidate for numerous offices, the most recent being their 2010 gubernatorial candidate. Her opponents, all green activists with established records of their own, lack the immediate organization and name recognition of Stein.

With the Republicans and Democrats actively engaged in contested primaries of their own, the Green-Rainbow ballot will unlikely be pulled by any unenrolled voters. With many nonpartisan progressive minded people rallying around Bernie Sanders, the race is sure to be decided purely by Green-Rainbow enrolled voters, many of whom would immediately recognize Stein. There’s little reason to see her not duplicate her almost 61 point victory from last cycle.

The Green Party awards state delegation seats based on numerous factors, including state recognition, so Massachusetts will be a valuable delegation for Stein going into the convention. In 2012, she won nine delegates of the eleven delegates in play and cinched the nomination.



Evan Falchuk’s Massachusetts specific United Independent Party has been advocating its members to temporarily change their registration for the sake of voting in other party primaries. As a result, the UIP primary ballot is a blank sheet.

Hypothetically speaking, a write-in candidate could be able to get on the general ballot via a blank primary ballot by being both the highest vote earner and earning at minimum the amount of signatures needed to originally qualify. Galvin’s office has stated that in the case of a presidential primary, the lack of a formal nominating convention would render such an attempt to “hijack a presidential primary ballot to be moot.

Evan Falchuk’s voters tend to side with anti-establishment candidates, as seen with an informal poll conducted within the UIP membership. If the mentality of this small group of 100 UIP voters is to be seen as representative of the entire party, Bernie Sanders is the most likely to benefit from the Operation Chaos style crossover being advocated by Falchuk.

As of September of 2015, the United Independent Party has claimed to have seen considerable growth with over 11,000 members in Massachusetts, although this could be reminiscent of the American Independent Party of California’s success with voters who mistakenly think they’re enrolling as independent.

One major party that’s missing this cycle around is the Libertarian Party. While Gary Johnson had an impressive showing in the 2012 cycle, breaking one million votes nationally and earning .97% in the Bay State, this doesn’t translate into automatic ballot access, nor was there any effort made by Libertarians to establish automatic ballot access going into 2014.

This however doesn’t mean the Libertarian Party has abandoned Massachusetts. Last fall, Worcester was the site of their first presidential debate, hosting four of the one dozen serious Libertarian hopefuls, and Massachusetts remains a valuable state with a split delegation that in 2012 had voted for Johnson as much as it voted for R. Lee Wrights. In a race where Gary Johnson only needed 297 delegates to win in 2012, Massachusetts’ prospective 19 delegates are a worthwhile investment.

Interestingly, failing to achieve major party status is sometimes seen as a boon to the success of the Massachusetts Libertarians. Unlike their fellow major-minor party cohorts, the Green Party and the United Independent Party, Libertarians are currently classified as a designation and subject to PAC laws, which allows them to take advantage of lower filing fees and much less stringent ballot access requirements in a state with arguably some of the harsher laws in the country. This comes with an equally hefty cost however as Libertarians lose the ability to have instant ballot access going into presidential years, as well as their names scrubbed from the quick enrollment ballots at the Registry of Motor Vehicles- something that many individuals in Massachusetts use to enroll as first time voters.

Other than the race for the presidency, the Republicans, Democrats, and Green-Rainbows will also have elections for both state and local committee seats on the ballot. In 2015 Massachusetts became the 21st state to allow online voter enrollment and Massachusetts residents have until Feb. 10 to register to vote in the March 1st elections.

Sanders in ’16?

Sanders in ’16?

Vermont’s self-identified “democratic socialist” Senator announced in Iowa on Sunday that he’s considering seeking the seat of the bully pulpit. Such a move would be the first time since the 1920 campaign of Eugene V. Debs where an openly socialist candidate with elected experience would have pitched a bid to pursue the highest office in America.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at The New Populism Conference.
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at The New Populism Conference.

The infamous Vermont firebrand, famous for going after the Koch Brothers, Wall Street, and the “billionaire class”, is now serving his 2nd term in the Senate. Originally an outspoken agitator for socialism and active third party member, he started off under the small Liberty Union party label, a socialist party based out of Vermont, where he mounted a number of runs for statewide office in the 70s with minimal success. At the turn of the decade, he absolved himself of party labels set his sights on the mayoralty of Burlington. There he was elected, numerous times, and proceeded to work his way through the ranks, becoming the state’s lone congressman, and later one of its two senators.

While Hillary Clinton has yet to officially declare her candidacy for the Presidency, the tea leaves read that she’s a candidate in every aspect except name only. To date, no serious candidate has materialized to challenge the would be political heavyweight, with many seeing 2016 as “her time” to be the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer. However, a sizable contingency remains skeptical of her ability to deliver the mantle of commander-in-chief to the Democratic Party, as well as a general concern with policies she would enact once in office, leaving ample room for a candidate like Sanders to make a splash.

As a Democrat, early polling shows Sanders as a long-shot, but his placement could very easily change. With a recent dissatisfaction with Clinton, a general unease with policies in the Obama administration, and an increasing disdain for both parties in Washington, he could very well play a role similar to that of Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012, or Howard Dean in 2004, and directly appeal to those disenfranchised with the current political system. Furthermore, those who feel Clinton isn’t progressive enough could find a home in a candidate Sanders, which could antagonize Clinton up until the convention.

For Bernie, he’s looking to do much more than just shake up the race- he’s looking to win. Last Sunday, at the “Politics on Tap” conference in Washington D.C., Sanders made it clear he’s looking to do more than be a spoiler. “If I run, I will run to win”, he said. Such a statement implies that Sanders is seriously looking to run within the constructs of the Democratic Party, and such a decision would definitely not be without merit.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

While various news reports will continue to claim that Sanders could mount a bid as a Democrat, an independent, or both, the truth of the matter is it’s not really that simple. The American political system is a complex puzzle, constructed from the various states and their individual laws governing the electoral system. As a result, Sanders would be forced to decide between one of the two options if he aims to make a realistic attempt, as each state has different thresholds for what it takes to be on the November ballot, and some incorporate “sore loser” laws. For example, Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico and the Libertarian Party’s 2012 nominee for president, was kept off of the ballot in Michigan, as he appeared on it as a candidate for the Republican presidential primary earlier in that year.

To further complicate issues, America hasn’t had an independent president since the days of Washington, and there’s a legitimate reason for this. For an independent Sanders, he would start off with the immediate disadvantage of having to organize an effective electoral apparatus in each state, and would most likely have to rely purely on grassroots support. Such problems have plagued numerous candidates in the past, bogging them down with legal battles and signature petitions. An independent Sanders could utilize preexisting ballot lines, such as those of the Peace and Freedom Party, Socialist Party, or Green Party, but, once again, it ultimately comes down to the decision of such individual state parties.

Photo originally from the the Huffington Post.
Photo originally from the the Huffington Post.

It is unclear of the ultimate extent that an independent Sanders would have on the November race, but it’s accepted that a Sanders run would be a challenge from the left, which would easily siphon hard numbers and funding from Clinton, assuming she’s the Democratic nominee. Furthermore, a Sanders challenge could possibly force Clinton to make a leftward shift on her positions, which could shake her appeal to more independent voters.

This also isn’t the first time that Sanders has flirted with the idea of running for President. Earlier this year, Sanders proposed the notion that he was mulling a run, and was met with harsh criticism from another third party icon of the American left. Ralph Nader, five time presidential candidate and face of American leftist politics, blasted Sanders on his perceived lack of correspondence and unwillingness to work with him in encouraging progressive policies, calling him a “lone ranger”.

In all of Sander’s ambiguity, it can be hard to pin down what he’s ultimately going to do, but what is for certain is that regardless of the path he takes, he’s going to be the first shake-up of many on the road to 2016.