Connolly, for his part, enjoys support from the two-toilet Irish who live on the city’s leafier western side, along with school parents, black ministers, and downtown professionals.
The divide between these coalitions owes more to identity politics than policy. Many Connolly supporters distrust Walsh’s close union ties, and fear he’d hand out platinum-plated contracts to cops and firefighters. Walsh supporters, who see their candidate as a crusader for the poor and the working class, have countered by painting Connolly as the lost Koch brother, a wealthy interloper who can’t be trusted.
The notion of a class divide between the candidates is inaccurate, but in the absence of many bright-line policy distinctions, it has become pervasive. And it’s clearly wearing on the Connolly camp. Late last week, Connolly’s wife broke down in tears at a campaign event while trying to disarm her husband’s critics. “The character piece gets under my skin, but I try not to let it,” Connolly says. He pauses, then adds, “I used to love Twitter, and now I hate Twitter.”
Walsh, a die-hard Bruins fan, compares the race’s sudden nasty bent to playoff hockey: The higher the stakes get, the more physical it gets. “Within the last 10 days, it’s gotten very chippy,” he says. “Now it’s real. The winner is the mayor of Boston.” In the race’s last days, Walsh says, “Every move matters. Every word matters.”
The hardest hits haven’t come from inside Walsh’s campaign, though. They’ve come from the super PACs that are flooding the Boston race with outside money.
To date, unions and super PACs have made $3.6 million in independent expenditures in the race — an enormous amount of money, given tight Massachusetts campaign finance laws that cap individual campaign contributions at $500. Since early August, when the spending began in earnest, outside groups have outspent the combined Connolly and Walsh campaigns by more than one-third. Recent mayoral races in Los Angeles and New York have also attracted heavy union and super PAC spending, but both those cities are considerably larger than Boston; on a per-capita basis, outside spending in Boston’s mayoral race is twice what it was in Los Angeles, and six times the levels in New York.