Is Steve Pagliuca The Next Senator from Massachusetts?

Yesterday afternoon, I tweeted my surprise that “some self-funded biz type isn’t jumping into the Mass senate race on the Dem side.” Apparently Bain Capital’s Steve Pagliuca is one of my followers, because news leaked several hours later that he was seriously considering a run at Ted Kennedy’s vacated seat.

I’m told that candidate Pagliuca is a near-certainty, which raises two questions: (1) How will this affect Bain; and (2) Does he have a shot to win?

The first answer is “relatively little.” Bain has lots of experience with this sort of thing, based on the electoral ambitions of firm co-founder Mitt Romney. In fact, Romney’s first race was for this very seat, against Kennedy back in 1994. That campaign included the regular apparences of laid-off factory workers from a Bain portfolio company, who were none too pleased with the future governor.

When Romney ran for president, Bain conducted an in-house investigation to uncover any skeletons from the Romney era (PR or otherwise) that might have embarassed the firm. Expect Bain to do the same again, but for the more recent era.

From a management perspective, losing Pagliuca (either temporarily or permanently) won’t be a crushing blow. He’s obviously one of Bain’s leading lights, but he also is just one of 30 managing directors. Bain switched to a committee model following Romney’s departure, in part to handle this type of situation.

Ok, let’s now move onto something I know a bit less about: Pagliuca’s chances at the polls. This also happens to matter at Bain, since a Pagliuca loss would probably mean he’d be back in his office by February at the latest (this is a special election, so the timetable is accelerated).

My gut feeling is that Pagliuca might want to call Steve Rattner about that house in DC. His current competition currently looks like this:

  • Martha Coakley: Current Massachusetts AG, and presumptive frontrunner. Possible pothole is that her campaign chest is for state races (needs federal-specific cash), which means she’ll have trouble matching Pagliuca’s personal millions. Tough to raise lots of money in a short election cycle.
  • Michael Capuano: Congressman (8th district), former mayor of Somerville. He hasn’t announced yet, but he’s basically a go. Could get portrayed as a Pelosi lapdog, but I might be biased because I worked against Capuano on election day in 1998 (in Somerville, where the local cops were just a wee bit protective of their boy).
  • Alan Khazei, co-founder of City Year. Here my bias swings in the opposite direction, since I used to be a City Year corps member. For the uninitiated, City Year is like an urban Peace Corps (and was a model used to create Americorps). It began in Boston, and has since spread nationwide. Khazei also has yet to formally announce.

I’m certainly not saying Pagliuca has anything close to a lock, particularly since he’s a “Wall Street guy,” has never been on the stump nor has he had his life dissected by the Boston media (no, puff pieces after you buy the Celtics do not count).

Then there is the issue of his positions on “the issues.” He’s clearly on the lefthand side of the ledger, given that he donated to Obama rather than to Romney (unlike virtually everyone else at Bain). But still an unknown.

What’s going for Pagliuca, though, is not just the money or the Celtics-related profile (although both are important in a short race). He’s also got the successful businessman thing, which could be persuasive for the state’s conservative-leaning unenrolled who might take Democratic primary ballots in order to vote for the least-objectionable. Better than taking a Republican ballot when that primary’s winner is likely to get slaughtered come the general.

Here are some additional thoughts I shared earlier today from the laundry room: