For many a Massachusetts politician, a White House dream

By Steve LeBlanc

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, April 15 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

BOSTON — Massachusetts may account for about 2 percent of the nation's population, but when it comes to nurturing White House dreams, the Bay State is a political boomtown.

Since 1960, at least half a dozen Massachusetts politicians have launched serious campaigns for president, while a handful of others have toyed with the idea.

Three captured their political party's nomination and one, John F. Kennedy, went on to occupy the office.

The difference this election cycle is that the politician aiming to be the fourth major party nominee from Massachusetts in the past five decades, Mitt Romney, is a Republican.

"You can say that all governors and senators see themselves as potential presidential contenders," said Boston College political science professor Marc Landy. "What's perhaps more surprising is how successful Massachusetts politicians have been in making themselves very serious contenders."

What makes the streak even more unusual is Massachusetts' reputation as one of the most liberal states in the country.

Timothy Vercellotti, associate professor of political science and polling director at Western New England College, chalks up the string of would-be Massachusetts presidential hopefuls to a number of factors — from the state's obsession with politics, to the potential brain power supplied by local institutions like Harvard University and MIT, to its location on the Northeast corridor linking Washington, New York and Boston.

"I'm not sure you can say that there's something in the water," he said. "But if you're thinking of assembling a group of advisers, you have some of the most accomplished advisers right here in Massachusetts."

The state's recent run of presidential contenders began in 1960 when then-Massachusetts U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy secured the Democratic nomination on a first ballot and went on to narrowly defeat Republican hopeful Richard Nixon.

Kennedy was the first president to hail from the state since former Republican Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge, then vice president , took the oath of office in 1923 following the death of then-president Warren Harding.

Prior to Coolidge, the state could claim two other chief executives — John Adams, the nation's second president, and his son John Quincy Adams, the sixth president.

After Kennedy's assassination in 1963, his brother, former New York U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, was assassinated in 1968 during his campaign for the White House. And their younger brother, then-U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Democratic president Jimmy Carter for their party's nomination in 1980.

The loss marked the end of the Kennedy family's efforts to retake the presidency and paved the way for other Massachusetts candidates who lacked some of the aura and political baggage of the Kennedy clan.

First was former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the son of Greek immigrants, who tried to ride crest of the state's economic boom of the 1980s, dubbed the "Massachusetts Miracle." Dukakis secured the Democratic Party's nomination in 1988 contest, but lost to the Republican nominee, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

Bush also had ties to Massachusetts. He was born in the state, and although his family quickly moved to Connecticut, he later became a student leader at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.

In part, Republicans were able to cast Dukakis as a soft-on-crime liberal from Massachusetts by pointing to his support of a weekend furlough program under which a convicted killer named Willie Horton raped a woman after he failed to return to prison.

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