Clinton-Obama camps prepare for Feb. 5 duel

Some of the rancor displayed in Monday's presidential debate at the congressional Black Caucus began to spill into Boston this week. And the race has come alive in the city's neighborhoods in just a week's time.

Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi, gathered with state and city leaders to discuss strategy, dropped a bomb on Gov. Deval Patrick's support of Barack Obama, intimating that the two shared a lack of experience, referencing Patrick's tumultuous first year in office.

"To be perfectly honest I really don't want my president to be in there in a learning process for the first six months to a year," DiMasi told reporters. "It's too important an election, it's critical."

"It's not surprising to hear this kind of tired attack from members of the establishment," responded Obama campaign spokesperson Reid Cherlin in a prepared statement. "The real risk in this election is playing the same political game with the same political players and expecting a different result."

The state, according to a recent State House News poll, is listing to the Clinton side, and the pols even more so. Over 60 members of the House and 22 from the senate have lined up behind Clinton so far, not to mention Mayor Thomas Menino, Council President Maureen Feeney and other councillors. The campaign's Dorchester office opened its doors yesterday in the offices of the highly energized Services Employees and Industrial Union (SEIU) 1199 at the Bayside Expo Center. SEIU makes up a sizable chunk of the 2,500 volunteers the campaign claims to have working in the state.

Obama's people have taken space up north in Somerville, and are taking full advantage of Gov. Deval Patrick's machine, along with a smattering of other organizers and a few new faces. Locally, the Dot for Deval column is active and volunteers canvassed door-to-door over the weekend, including City Councillors Sam Yoon and Charles Yancey.

"The response was very receptive, much more so than when campaigning in New Hampshire earlier this month," said Yancey. "I believe Obama will do well, but it will be an uphill battle."

Over 200 Obama volunteers canvassed across the state, and 500 more met at 15 different organizing meetings, said Cherlin. On Monday night, Patrick joined Yoon, Yancey, City Councillor Michael Ross, Rep. Gloria Fox and Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry - along with about 100 other Obama volunteers - to watch Tuesday's debate on the big screens at the Blarney Stone on Dorchester Avenue.

The race will come down to which campaign can get things rolling the quickest, and it looks like, in the city at least, Clinton has a decisive advantage. In addition to a Jan. 16 State House News Service poll that put Clinton 11 percentage points ahead of Obama (with a 6.2 percent margin of error), the senator from New York enjoys wide political and volunteer-heavy union support.

"I really want Barack Obama to do well, but I would never underestimate the power of a built-in machine," said Yoon. "The governor presided over a movement, and movement building takes time. My worry is about a lack of time."

Yoon is betting Obama will fare better in the suburbs, perhaps the reason for the Obama camp's Somerville-based headquarters.

"I think she'll win the primary," said Rep. Martin Walsh of Clinton on Tuesday. "Last night's debate was very testy but I think she pulls it out and wins in the final. Nationally, this could potentially come down to the convention. The beauty of it is it's bringing more energy to the Democratic Party."

Talk of a brokered convention seems to arise each election cycle, although it hasn't happened since Adlai Stevenson in 1952. Local favorite John F. Kennedy's style of campaigning early in the year, imitated ever since, seemed to change all that. But there is also ample speculation of a not-so-super-Tuesday on Feb. 5, elevating to the national stage March 4th's primaries in Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island.

Among the undecided last time the Reporter checked, most have chosen sides. Rep. Marie St. Fleur has crossed to the Clinton camp, and Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and Councillor Yancey have sided with Obama. Rep. Brain Wallace is undecided after his candidate, Joe Biden, dropped out of the race. This puts the majority of Dorchester's local pols in the Obama camp, contrary to the trend in the rest of the state.

Heather Fry, Obama's volunteer coordinator for the neighborhood, thinks the voters will go for him too.

"I think there are a lot of minorities here and I think a lot of them see that Barack holds their interests at heart," said Fry.

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