Just A Little Bit to the Right - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Just A Little Bit to the Right

In writing about the House Republican leadership contest for the main site, I was reminded of the 1998 gubernatorial primary between Paul Cellucci and Joe Malone in Massachusetts. The two Republican statewide elected officials both wanted to be governor. Bill Weld had left in an unsuccessful quest to become Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Mexico, thwarted by Jesse Helms. This made Lt. Gov. Cellucci acting governor and gave him a leg up in a contest where he and Malone, the state treasurer, might otherwise have been more equally matched.

Malone decided he would run to the right of Cellucci in the primary. It wasn’t hard to do: By 1997, Weld’s early fiscal discipline had vanished into thin air. Now that the budget deficits were gone and the Bay State economy was growing again, Weld-Cellucci had revenues they could use to jack up state spending even further. Cellucci was also, like Weld, a social liberal. The Boston Herald columnist Don Feder even reported that Cellucci had convinced Weld to take his far-left position on abortion.

So Malone had Republican attack man Arthur Finklestein do ads that made the race seem like a fight between Ronald Reagan and Michael Dukakis. Malone was Reagan, Cellucci was Dukakis. There was just one problem: in terms of actual policy substance, Malone positioned himself just millimeters to the right of Cellucci. Cellucci was pro-choice. Malone, a former pro-lifer, was pro-choice but supported a few more restrictions on abortion. Cellucci was for affirmative action. Malone favored affirmative action under somewhat more limited circumstances. Cellucci was for gun control, Malone was a little less for gun control. They both wanted to roll the income tax rate back to 5 percent, but Malone wanted to do it first.

Don’t get me wrong: I voted for Malone in that primary. I’ll take a millimeter if that’s the best I can get and there was at least a chance Malone would prove even more conservative once in office. But Cellucci won in no small part because Malone couldn’t convince many Republicans that the policy differences between the two men were really as big as between Dukakis and Reagan.

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