MA Governor Race

Is Juliette Kayyem the Next Elizabeth Warren?

Ben Jacobs talks to the newest candidate in the Massachusetts gubernatorial race.

Is Juliette Kayyem going to be the next Elizabeth Warren?

Kayyem, a former state and federal homeland security official, analyst for CNN, and columnist for The Boston Globe—where she was a Pulitzer finalist—announced her candidacy for governor of Massachusetts on Wednesday.

The 2014 gubernatorial hopeful bears some striking similarities to Warren. After all, Kayyem is a lawyer from Cambridge who taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government but has never held elected office. Warren is also a lawyer from Cambridge who was a political novice before being elected in 2012 and who taught at Harvard, though she was a professor at the law school.

Kayyem is modest about any comparison to Massachusetts’ first term senator, telling The Daily Beast, “While it’s a compliment to be compared to Elizabeth Warren, I am very realistic that she is just an amazing person. I hope I can generate that kind of enthusiasm but I’d be foolish to assume” that will happen on its own.

Instead of comparisons to Warren, a progressive folk hero who is already being mooted as a 2016 presidential candidate, Kayyem focused on the nuts and bolts of her campaign. She acknowledged the wave of attention that she’s gotten entering the race as an unexpected candidate, as she’s relatively young compared to other contenders and the only female, Kayyem said that “means nothing if I can’t sustain a real campaign and that’s done through fundraising and that’s what I’m going to do over the course of the next couple of months.”

She also will emphasize her homeland security experience in a state that suffered a terrorist attack only a few months ago. Kayyem is the first government official with a background in the field to run for major statewide office and plans on talking quite a bit about her “management style and leadership skills” as well as the need to build what she describes as “a more resilient society.”

Kayyem faces some initial obstacles organizing her campaign. Even the most obsessive politicos in the state are focusing their attention on the Boston mayor’s race and the special election for the 5th Congressional District to fill the seat of newly elected Senator Ed Markey. Kayyem vowed to hit the campaign trail hard. She said, “I’ll be all over. I know the state very well, I worked in state government and know every nook and cranny of the state.”

She also has an unusual relationship with the state’s dominant newspaper. Though Kayyem was on book leave for the past three months, she was technically an employee of The Boston Globe until Tuesday. Any positive coverage could be perceived as favoritism while any negative coverage could be considered the paper rejecting its own. Peter Canellos, the editor of the Globe’s editorial page, made clear that “it behooves us to treat her exactly like any other candidate.” He added, “I also feel fortunate in that what she wrote for us is material that is very unlikely to figure in the governor’s race so it’s not like any of the columns we’ve run are likely to be an issue because she wrote on national and foreign affairs.”

Kayyem also faces more traditional challenges. She is running in a Democratic primary crowded with candidates including state treasurer and former DNC chair Steve Grossman, Donald Berwick, the former administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicare Services, and state senator Dan Wolf (who has temporarily suspended his campaign because of ethics issues over his part ownership of an airline). The winner will likely face Charlie Baker, the GOP’s popular 2010 gubernatorial nominee, in November 2014.

In addition, she has to deal with Massachusetts’ unique system for nominating a candidate where delegates are elected in caucuses to a state convention held in the early summer before a primary. To make it to the September primary ballot from there, a candidate needs win the support of 15% of the delegates at the convention. The result, according to Peter Ubertaccio, a professor of political science at Stonehall College, candidates need to start organizing early and win the progressive activists who dominate the caucuses. In Ubertaccio’s opinion, if Kayyem can “demonstrate early strength” in the same way that incumbent Governor Deval Patrick (in whose administration Kayyem served) did in 2006, “she’d be a pretty formidable player.”

In the meantime, Kayyem has to hit the hustings and start raising significant sums of money as a first time candidate in a competitive primary. It will be a challenge that Elizabeth Warren, who had only token opposition to be the Democratic nominee for Senate, didn’t have to face.

But, then again, unlike Kayyem, Warren didn’t have to stand awkwardly next to John King on live television when he blew CNN’s coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings by wrongly claiming that a suspect was in custody. If she can handle that, then a grueling and competitive yearlong campaign should be a breeze.

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Disclosure: I was previously employed as a contributor to the Boston Globe's editorial page where I was a colleague of Juliette Kayyem and edited by Peter Canellos.