Bay State Democrats produce one surprise at their convention

EVELYN F. Murphy is no quitter. Four years ago she campaigned hard for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, won the party convention's endorsement, then lost to fellow-liberal John F. Kerry in the primary. Her long-anticipated candidacy this year for the same office clearly frightened off several potential competitors -- but not state Sen. Gerard D'Amico of Worcester. Although less well known and substantially less well funded, the fifth-term legislator pulled off one of the biggest upsets at any party gathering in state history.

While endorsement does not a nomination make, as Miss Murphy can attest, his 51-to-49 percent victory at the May 17 conclave of Democratic state delegates has surely boosted his candidacy. If nothing else, it should make it easier for the senator to raise money.

At the same time, the Murphy financing row could become tougher to hoe. Much could depend on how many of her past supporters rally to her cause. These would include environmentalists and members of the business community who got to know her when she served as secretary of environmental affairs and secretary of economic affairs.

The big challenge facing Senator D'Amico will be retaining the momentum the endorsement has given his candidacy. Surely he can count on help and encouragement from legislative colleagues.

The Murphy and D'Amico positions are not that different. Both have strongly supported measures to improve the standing of women in the workplace and in society.

Underlying the primary-election campaign are the facts that at least half the Bay State voters are women, and no statewide elective chair in Massachusetts has ever been occupied by a female. In fact, unlike the Republicans, Democrats have only once nominated a woman to a constitutional office and that was more than four decades ago.

Murphy, however, can ill afford to exploit this, because in the process she might turn off a sizable segment of conservative male voters.

Both candidates for lieutenant governor have ties of friendship to Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, with whom the winner of the September primary must campaign, and, if successful in the November election, work with in the executive chamber during the next four years.

Some Dukakis political allies support Murphy, a member of his cabinet in both of his gubernatorial terms. Others are D'Amico boosters. The governor himself is determined to remain neutral. Thus neither the former economic-affairs secretary nor the state senator can count on even a faint smile of preference from the governor, who is seeking a third term.

Similarly, retiring Democratic state Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti will continue his neutrality in the choice of his successor through the primary.

As expected, former US Rep. James M. Shannon won convention endorsement to become the commonwealth's top law officer. But his 63 percent of the vote was smaller than anticipated.

Jo Ann Shotwell, a former assistant attorney general and the party's other would-be Bellotti successor, has to be pleased with her 37 percent. That's a lot better than the 15 percent required to continue a candidacy into the September Democratic primary.

To what extent Miss Shotwell may have benefited from support of those disappointed by the unsuccessful Murphy campaign is unknown.

Certainly Shannon forces would be ill-advised to ignore Shotwell. Her familiarity with the attorney general's office (she was chief of two of its major divisions) could be an important asset.

Mr. Shannon, who gave up his congressional seat two years ago to seek the nomination for the US Senate, is much better known than Shotwell. But state Democrats can expect to hear plenty from her as she tries to win needed backing.

The third and final Democratic convention contest, for auditor's seat now held by retiring Democrat John J. Finnegan of Boston, was won by state Rep. A. Joseph DeNucci of Newton, with 54 percent. Boston City Councilors Maura Hennigan and Charles Yancey, with 21 and 15 percent each, also qualified.

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