For Gifford, 3rd Seat Will Be Won One Handshake at a Time

March 2, 2018 GMT

With 13 Democrats running for Congress in the 3rd Congressional District, it is a given that the results will end up in photo finish.

But all 13 people running (Steve Kerrigan dropped out) will not be bunched up at the end. Rather, as the field shapes up, it appears that the race is dividing itself into two tiers of candidates-the frontrunners and the also rans.

One of those first-tier candidates, who plans who plans on winning that photo finish, is Rufus Gifford, 43, of Concord.

He is the energetic, articulate and worldly former U.S. ambassador to Denmark who is running for office for the first time and, like everything else he does, he is running at a full pace.


The race is to succeed Democrat U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, who is not seeking re-election, and the field is wide open. The district is made up of 37 communities, both urban like Lowell, Lawrence and Fitchburg, and rural like Winchendon, Lancaster and Harvard.

“The district is remarkable and diverse,” Gifford said over coffee at Market Basket in Westford. On the same day, he said, a candidate can go from dealing with the problems of a city like Lawrence, to a debate on family farms in Ashby.

Speaking of debates, one of the problems with holding them is the crowded field. At a candidates’ night in Hudson recently, with all then-14 candidates sitting awkwardly on high stools on the stage, the field looked like a birds on a wire, all peeping at the same time. It was a moderator’s nightmare.

But by and large, you can put issues aside in this Democrat primary race because the candidates agree on just about everything, beginning with Tsongas is good and Donald Trump is bad.

Other than that, the issues are health care, jobs, the economy, infrastructure, transportation, climate change, constituent service and who can best represent the district in Washington.

Because so many candidates are running, it will take fewer votes to win. Also, the primary is on Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day, which is not helpful for a heavy voter turnout. Thus, a candidate can win with 20 percent of the vote, or even less.

This means that not only does every vote count, but that the winner will be the candidate who personally relates to the most voters and who gets them out to vote on primary day.

While Gifford is raising adequate funds to be competitive (he was national finance director for President Barack Obama in the 2012 election), he sees this election as more of a retail operation.


Which is why he is In the middle of a “Coffee and Conversations” tour in each community in the district, where he can meet and greet voters personally.

“I am the first to arrive and the last to leave,” he said.

“I want to hear directly from people in the district,” he said. “I want to win this election the old-school way” and that is meeting and listening to every voter he can.

Gifford, who moved to Concord in the 3rd District from Manchester-by-the Sea with his husband Stephen, has roots in the region. He is the son of former Bank of America president Chad Gifford, a well-known and well-respected figure in Massachusetts banking, political and social circles.

Gifford’s entry into politics and policy was inspired by Obama, whom he met when Gifford worked for U.S. Sen. John Kerry “It was in 2007. I was in Kerry’s office when then-Sen. Obama came in with Ethel Kennedy.

“I was impressed by his confidence and his fundamental decency. I said to myself, ‘This is a guy I can work for’.”

And, so he did. After working in California as a movie producer, Gifford began raising money for Obama’s campaign for president in 2008. He was then named finance director for the Democratic National Committee.

When Obama geared up for re-election in 2012, Obama named Gifford as his national finance director and as such Gifford was ultimately responsible for raising a record-setting $1 billion for the campaign.

A grateful Obama then named Gifford as U.S. Ambassador to Denmark, where he served for four years. That appointment, Gifford believes, gave him valuable international experience, to go with his national experience, that none of the other candidates can match.

Gifford left the ambassador’s post upon the election of Trump.

“I never thought I would run for political office,” Gifford said, “but Trump’s election pushed me into it. It was time to step up.” So he has.

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