By Amanda Fakhreddine/Daily News correspondent
The MetroWest Daily News
Posted Jun 03, 2010 @ 12:01 AM
Last update Jun 03, 2010 @ 10:06 AM
BOSTON —The future of Massachusetts Democrats may be just a tweet and a conversation away.
Just ask “JohnEWalshDem.”
John Walsh, the chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, is likely to answer such Twitter questions quickly. His desk in Charlestown includes an iPhone that buzzes, rings and vibrates throughout an interview.
Walsh’s enthusiasm for new social networking has come a long way from his childhood days when his Democratic activist mother reached out to neighbors by placing campaign signs in front of their Abington home.
Now, in the wake of the election of Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate seat long held by Ted Kennedy, Walsh realizes it’s time for a change of campaign strategy.
Time is critical. Brown’s success has spawned many new Republican candidates for local, state and national offices that only two years ago were uncontested Democratic fiefdoms. Nine of the state’s 10 congressmen face challenges in November.
“We are at a time of remarkable change in the whole world, in terms of communication, and that change is really impacting the way campaigns are run right now,” said Walsh, “That’s something that I have a real interest in – in realizing the old ‘cutting edge’ tools of politics are no longer working.”
Walsh began developing his own campaigning skills after he graduated from Princeton University and helped a friend running for the local School Committee. Even though his friend lost, Walsh recalled they were very close to beating an incumbent.
“Everyone was saying ‘Oh my God. Who are these kids,”‘ said Walsh. Paul Moriarty, at the time the town moderator and a former state representative, appointed Walsh and one of his friends to the town’s Finance Committee.
Walsh went on to serve on the Abington Board of Selectmen for 10 years.
“That was more than enough time to cure me of political ambition, and determine that I liked the campaigning more than the governing,” said Walsh, while silencing his iPhone.
Walsh has been the chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party for the past three years while managing his insurance company in Abington.
Despite his interest in the latest social networking/political tools, Walsh still values tried and true methods, especially one-on-one conversations between a candidate and a voter.
“We are moving into a time when people are rejecting a sort of broad, top-down, broadcast method of dealing with information,” said Walsh, “The reason why Twitter is important, and Facebook and MySpace, is not so much because they are cool wiz-bang techno stuff, but because it allows people to have a conversation.”
Walsh said Brown was able to harness that conversation and turn it into votes in traditionally Democratic districts.
“We have, for a long time, gotten lazy … in the sense that you can wait in a campaign until the last couple of weeks to hit the airs with TV ads and direct mails,” he said. “Voters are smarter than that.”
Walsh also feels politicians have taken the easy route on tough decisions and that has brought a growing frustration among voters.
“Our infrastructure is falling apart around us … whether it is roads, bridges, or school buildings, we have let them fall apart in the name of fiscal conservatism,” Walsh explained, frustration edging his voice.
“Letting your buildings and roads collapse underneath you is not being responsible fiscally. It’s not like the roads are going to fix themselves.”
Walsh believes the public frustration communicated over the Internet has spawned a resurgence of political interest. He thinks Brown’s Jan. 19 Senate election victory is a sign of what’s to come.
“I didn’t agree with the majority of voters but you have to celebrate when 2.2 million people on a cold, snowy day, come out and vote,” said Walsh, “They believed that taking the time to participate in politics, to participate in an election, had an impact – and that is more important than who wins.”
Now Walsh is working hard to get his team out into the neighborhoods and campaign for the Democratic candidates this election year.
“The challenge for us is how quickly can we adapt and return politics to a personal thing. The candidate and the party that accepts that, and masters it will be successful going forward,” he said.
Amanda Fakhreddine is a reporter in the Boston University State House Program.
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