Falchuk’s three percent solution

Independent gov. candidate seeks official status for party

Evan Falchuk (center), independent candidate for governor, flanked, left to right, by Jeff McCormick, Martha Coakley and Charlie Baker at the
Hispanic Heritage Breakfast, Boston.

Evan Falchuk got off to a good start at the El Mundo Hispanic Heritage Breakfast, an annual roast and awards ceremony in Boston.

“¡Hablo español!” the bilingual independent candidate told the audience to laughter and applause. Then the independent candidate for governor quickly switched to English, “because not everybody will understand,” getting in a dig at his non-Spanish speaking opponents on the dais, Republican Charlie Baker, Democrat Martha Coakley, and fellow independent, Jeff McCormick.

There is no obvious path to victory in November for the former health care executive. But he could be a spoiler for either Baker or Coakley on the way to another, more achievable goal, getting 3 percent of the vote.

Reaching that threshold would give his United Independent Party official status in the Bay State and the ability to put candidates on the 2016 statewide ballot under the party’s banner.

The multi-millionaire, a former health care executive, can pour his personal wealth (he earned $3 million in 2012) into his campaign. But money isn’t everything for self-funded candidates. The Bay State’s Democrat and Republican machines can harness volunteers, local, state, and national political committees, and, at least in the case of Democrats, recruit political rock stars such as Michelle Obama to parachute in to campaign and fundraise — tools independents just don’t have.

Falchuk sees himself as a straight-talking “disrupter” who counters Democratic and Republican candidates who rely on canned talking points as “strategies to win,” instead of offering voters concrete solutions to problems in sectors like health care and transportation.

“In the debate, we just had in Springfield, you [got] to see me talking in very specific ways,” Falchuk told Commonwealth. “People may disagree with what I have to say, but at least I am going to tell you what I think.”

Indeed, Falchuk’s performance at the recent Western Massachusetts Media Consortium debate, showed his fluency in the issues facing the region. He was able to outline the economic differences between the Berkshires and the Pioneer Valley and understood the importance of projects like the Springfield–New Haven commuter rail line.

His quip about tolling the New Hampshire border got the only reaction from the otherwise well-behaved audience. “All of our governors [have all tried to] run for president,” Falchuk said, as some people tried to stifle giggles. “They are looking at New Hampshire and saying ‘I don’t want to tax those guys,’ [but] I do.”

“Independent Evan Falchuk was witty, engaging and specific and insightful in his answers,” The Berkshire Eagle opined. “He stood out.”

Falchuk also exceeded expectations during the Providers’ Council debate last month in Boston. David S. Bernstein of Boston magazine declared on “The Scrum,” a weekly WGBH podcast that Falchuk “stole the show.”

Falchuk and the other independents have one more shot at raising their statewide profiles in an October 7 debate moderated by WBZ’s Jon Keller. (They have been excluded from a Boston Globe-WGBH debate on October 21.) He also plans to ramp up the television and radio ads that the campaign has been running since August.

“These debates make a big difference,” Falchuk told Commonwealth. “There are still so many voters who are not paying attention to the race.”

Three percent of the vote isn’t much, but Falchuk isn’t there. WBUR’s September 24-27 tracking poll, shows Falchuk pulling in 1 percent of voters. (The MassINC Polling Group conducted the WBUR poll. MassINC is the publisher of CommonWealth magazine.). Other polls have shown him at 2 percent.

Although the political cognoscenti pour over every crosstab, average voters are just beginning to pay attention. In western Massachusetts, Martha Coakley, a daughter of North Adams, has a slight “hometown” advantage. But there is a north-south fault line in the Berkshires. Coakley must guard against Falchuk in southern part of Berkshire County, particularly in liberal towns like Great Barrington, where a “pragmatic progressive,” as Falchuk describes himself, combined with a general lack of enthusiasm for Coakley could peel away voters.

Both Coakley and Baker are likely to do better in Springfield where Falchuk’s casino stance is a problem for him. He opposes a repeal of the state’s casino law, but does not support special legislation for Springfield casino should voters strike the measure down.

Although Falchuk is making a play for Latino and African American voters (eight community leaders from Boston, Lynn and Worcester endorsed him Thursday), the downside for Falchuk is that his appeal may be limited to disaffected Democratic and unenrolled voters to the left of Coakley, who are willing to cast a protest vote.

Baker has to guard his right flank against defections to McCormick and the third independent, conservative preacher Scott Lively, but he may also have to guard against Falchuk, who could pull in some Baker voters, too. Five weeks of MassINC polls showed Baker voters have more favorable views of Falchuk than Coakley voters; any move to Falchuk could come at Baker’s expense.

Few see him as a threat right now. “There are people on my site who… vote Democratic and don’t like Martha Coakley,” David Kavitz at Blue Mass Group. “But I haven’t seen any indication that there is any movement toward Falchuk.”

Absent a breakaway moment for Baker or Coakley, the three independents together could draw away enough votes to thwart either the Republican or the Democrat. Right now, the three are polling between 5 and 6 percent in the most recent surveys.

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Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

“Typically, when independents are a huge threat, it is at the margins,” said Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College in Easton. He noted that in 2012, Republican Richard Tisei lost the 6th Congressional District, a contest that featured an independent candidate, to Democrat John Tierney by 1 percentage point.

“If you look at a tight margin for either Coakley or Baker going into the last couple of weeks, they have a real potential to play an upset role,” said Ubertaccio.