Promising to deliver ''a shot in the arm'' to the Democratic primary, former US labor secretary Robert Reich today will officially announce his candidacy for governor of Massachusetts.
The entry by Reich is expected to shake up a Democratic field now dominated by State House politicians and party insiders.
Early polls show that Reich - an outspoken, well-known liberal who served in the Clinton administration - would be among the front-runners in the Democratic race. His flirtation with a run has already set off concern among supporters of Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham, who is relying on labor support, and former Democratic National Committee chairman Steve Grossman, who has been courting liberal activists.
Despite his prominence and popularity, Reich faces a tough battle to qualify for the primary ballot, which requires the backing of 15 percent of delegates to the Democratic convention in June.
Those delegates will be chosen by local Democratic committees on Feb. 2 and many delegates will pledge their support to a candidate at that time, giving Reich barely three weeks to make his case to them.
Reich, a Brandeis University economics professor, will formally launch his candidacy at an 11 a.m. news conference at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston, according to an adviser.
The Cambridge resident plans to stress his background in economics during the campaign, saying he is best equipped to bring about economic growth and recovery in the state.
His advisors say he will run a vibrant campaign that will be freewheeling and accessible, hoping to stir the popular fervor set off by US Senator John McCain in his Republican presidential bid two years ago.
''I'm going to inject energy into the party,'' Reich told the Globe last week. ''I'll be like a shot in the arm. I will bring people back who are turned off by politics.''
Quick-witted and media-savvy, Reich has already drawn headlines by calling Acting Governor Jane Swift ''an embarrassment'' and saying he would consider raising the state tax on capital gains. He will need to gain attention, since he has raised just $70,000 for his campaign. Birmingham, by contrast, has collected nearly $3 million.
Reich's bid presents a quandary for organized labor groups, which are largely behind Birmingham, a former labor lawyer who has championed major initiatives like minimum-wage increases. Reich, a fierce supporter of workers' rights and a higher minimum wage, will also try to lay claim to labor support, which can be influential at the Democratic convention and in the September primary.
''We haven't had a lineup like this in a long time,'' said Robert J. Haynes, president of the state AFL-CIO. ''It's going to be a good, competitive race, and Reich adds to it significantly.''
As he seeks his first elected office, Reich could also find that he's made some enemies in the Democratic Party since he left his Cabinet post in 1997, said Dan Payne, a Democratic political consultant who is unaligned in the race. Many Clinton loyalists are still smarting from Reich's public break with the former president, whom he accused of leaving the party ''dead as a doornail,'' and from Reich's decision to back former US Senator Bill Bradley over Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 presidential primaries. Clinton remains immensely popular in Massachusetts.
''Democratic regulars could throw back in his face comments about Clinton and Gore,'' Payne said. ''It depends on what kind of campaign he conducts.''
While Reich could cut into the support of candidates such as Birmingham, Grossman, and former state senator Warren Tolman, his candidacy could mean a boost to Secretary of State William F. Galvin, the most conservative of the Democrats running, and state Treasurer Shannon P. O'Brien, the only woman in the race, who may benefit from a crowded field of male candidates.
Reich, 55, graduated from Dartmouth College and Yale Law School and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where he was a classmate of Bill Clinton's. He spent 12 years teaching at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government before joining the Clinton administration in 1993.
He now teaches social and economic policy at Brandeis. He lives in Cambridge with his wife, Clare Dalton, and their two sons.
As he launches his bid, Reich is expected to turn to experienced political operatives, some of them former aides to Bradley and Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
David Burke, who at one time was Kennedy's chief of staff, has been spearheading Reich's organizational efforts. Providing policy guidance is Nick Littlefield, who served that role with the senator after previously working as his chief aide on the Senate Labor Committee.
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