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Why Will Won: Staying Close to Home Pays Off for Brownsberger

State Rep's needed to win over his Belmont/Cambridge base and they came out for him.

'Tip' O'Neill popularized the saying "all politics is local."

And at last night's Democratic primary election to succeed Steve Tolman as State Senator in the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District, Will Brownsberger and his team perfected the application of that phrase. 

A combination of getting out voters who know him the best, the money committed to that goal and the benefit of a wild card candidate in the home town of his strongest challenger, will allow Brownsberger to exchange the title of State Representative for State Senate come Jan. 11 when he waltzes to a win in an uncontested general election.

"We'll be right here for the next four weeks, in this office. But I guess I should be getting use to being called "Senator" but I really hate doing that right now," said Brownsberger with a smile last night.

Reviewing last night's results, the numbers told the story especially when comparing who came out to vote and for whom. 

Forced to run a campaign in a large district against three potentially strong candidates – Watertown state Rep. Jonathan Hecht, former union chief Robert McCarthy from Watertown and Brighton attorney Tim Schofield – all within eight weeks, the Brownsberger campaign, headed by Kate Foster - running her first campaign – wisely decided to marshal their money (reportedly more than $100,000) and effort in Belmont and several precincts in Cambridge which Brownsberger has been representing on Beacon Hill since 2007. 

"I have been working for Belmont and those sections in Cambridge and they know me better than anywhere else and we hoped that they would come out for me," said Brownsberger, adding, "And they did." 

But it was a scramble for the Brownsberger team to get out of the box running when the Secretary of State announced the Dec. 13 primary date in October. 

"We were literally sitting around a kitchen table one day and the next we're looking for office space and trying to figure out how to raise money," said Foster.

The team spent the money on ads and flyers, recruiting precinct captains who were familiar with the populations and how to interact with the people including printing election literature in Ethiopian. 

"We really had a great grassroots operation and that included everything from doorknockers in the middle of the night and Belmont people who worked out of their minds for Will," said Foster, who coordinated 200 volunteers on election day.

Winning at home

And the decision to win Belmont and Cambridge big turned out to be a combination that could not be beat. 

And for whatever reason, Belmont residents decided that they were going to come out and vote for Will. Approximately 30 percent, or nearly 4,000, of Belmont's 16,600 registered voters came to the polls, a vote total more in line with number seen in controversial ballot questions and competitive state races on the ballot. 

"We really lucked out on the weather. It was a nice day to go out and vote," said Foster.

And the long-time public figure – who served on the Belmont Board of Selectmen and two terms as state Representative – carried 3,304 votes in his hometown, or 68 percent, compared to 9.8 percent for Hecht (476). McCarthy came in second in Belmont, with 18 percent of the vote (870) with Schofield trailing badly with 196.

In Cambridge, which saw an 18.5 percent turnout, Brownsberger topped Hecht by nearly 500 votes – 1,069 to 597 – with McCarthy taking in 602. 

And while Belmont voter turnout exceeded expectations, Watertown, Hecht's home town, saw 21.5 percent of the nearly 20,700 registered voters go to the polls.

For Brownsberger's nearest rival, the vote totals came in around where Hecht wanted them, but it was just not enough.

While Hecht hit the vote totals in the rest of the district – he expected 400 to 500 in Belmont (he received 476), 600 in Cambridge (597) and a couple hundred in Boston (181) – he could only muster 2,645 in Watertown when he expected 3,000 and needed more.

While McCarthy grabbed 31 percent in Watertown, Brownsberger was barely noticed with a mere 5 percent and Schofield got nearly 3 percent.

"We thought that would be about what we needed," Hecht said.

"But Will got his base out."

Bob McCarthy's Effect

Hecht said he had not analyzed the numbers, and said it was too early to say what effect McCarthy had on the race.

But it appeared that the Watertown resident and union official, who finished second in total votes in all four communities, appeared to take more from Hecht than Brownsberger. 

While the former head of the fire fighters union had the backing of organized labor – the McCarthy campaign used those forces to conduct telephone polling and help get-out-the-vote – and the endorsement of Tolman and former US Rep. Joe Kennedy, McCarthy was hurt by the short campaign season – only two months – and the lack of name recognition in the district, according to political observers.

"While he is a Watertown resident, do you really know him if you weren't a firefighter?" said one pundit.

McCarthy said last night he ran so he could give a voice people who do not have one — seniors, veterans and children. He just could not get enough votes in the short election.

“It wasn’t in the cards, plain and simple," McCarthy said.

"We did what we needed to do. We didn’t leave any stone unturned. There’s nothing I regret from this whole campaign.”

Brighton's Schofield – who had the endorsement of Boston's Mayor Thomas Menino – had his strongest showing in Boston. He picked up 2,061 votes, or nearly 64 percent of the votes, followed by McCarthy with 18.6 percent, Brownsberger with 11.5 percent and Hecht with 5.6 percent.

But there was at turnout of only 10.5 percent of the nearly 31,800 registered voters in the Boston precincts in the state senate district.

As for Brownsberger, he will need to reintroduce himself to the district once again this November as he seeks a full-term in what will be a district with more Boston neighborhoods and less Cambridge precincts as a result of redistricting. 

"I can only hope that the entire district will get to know me as the people in Belmont and Cambridge have," said Brownsberger.

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