In a state dominated by Boston Democrats, Spencer Kimball is something of an anomaly: a Republican-leaning pollster and political consultant based in Western Massachusetts. When he’s not advising candidates or gauging public opinion, he teaches communications studies at Emerson College. With yet another special election for the U.S. Senate in the works, I asked Spencer about the rough-and-tumble world of political consulting, and whether he thinks Gabriel Gomez has a shot of knocking off Ed Markey.
So what does a political consultant do? Is it as fun as they make it look on “The West Wing”?
A political consultant is a title that can take on many different forms. In essence, political consultants are public-relations specialists in strategic communication, but they are also referred to as a “spin masters” or “propagandists.” Some consultants work on message strategy for the campaign and use polling data and other analytic information to craft a persuasive message. Others can be well-connected individuals who know a lot of people and can help create an organization of support. There are some who run events, others who raise money, and yet others who follow politics and call themselves political consultants but who really don’t have much of a client list.
It’s a fun job if you enjoy advocacy work and civic engagement, but it’s a tiring job as well. And perhaps those who watch “The West Wing” or “House of Cards” should be aware that most consulting jobs do not pay very well, and it takes a long time to build a reputation in the field where it is a viable livelihood.
People from outside of Massachusetts tend to think of the state as uniformly liberal. You work in both Western Massachusetts and Boston. How does public opinion differ across different parts of the state?
The perception of Massachusetts as a liberal state is supported by the number of elected officials in the State House and the federal delegation who are Democrats. However, Massachusetts was a Republican state about a half-century ago, and in fact elected the first African-American U.S. senator—Edward Brooke—a Republican. Massachusetts has also elected statewide Republicans for governor from 1990-2006, and elected Scott Brown during the special election of 2010. As far as regional differences, the cities are where the Democrats hold their strength. Starting in Worcester and working west is a more conservative ideology among voters.
Gomez vs. Markey: polls have it pretty close. What do you think?
It will be very difficult for Gomez to win this special election because there isn’t the type of political hysteria that surrounded the Brown/Coakley special election in 2010 regarding health care. That being said, Massachusetts is not opposed to voting for a Republican, but with Gomez being pro-life, that may hurt him with the female vote that Brown found so hard to win over.
I think the polls will begin to gravitate toward Markey in the coming weeks, and it will be up to Gomez to give voters a reason to vote for him, besides being younger and better-looking than Markey. If the polls stay within five points, the campaign will come down to the get-out-the-vote programs, in which the Democrats have shown much better organization than their Republican counterparts outside of the 2010 special election.
You’re a professor at Emerson. What’s your favorite show on WERS?
While I spend most of my time listening to the news and talk radio, I do enjoy the weekend afternoon “All A Cappella” when I get the chance.
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!