John Walsh, 'godfather' of modern grassroots campaigns, dies at 65
Politicians across Massachusetts are mourning the loss of John Walsh, the political adviser behind former Gov. Deval Patrick’s unprecedented victory in 2006.
Why it matters: Walsh’s grassroots campaigning playbook for sending Patrick to Beacon Hill — the same strategies he used on Sen. Ed Markey’s reelection campaign in the 2020 Democratic primary — became a model Barack Obama built upon to win the presidency in 2008.
Catch up fast: Walsh died in hospice care Monday at age 65, the Globe first reported.
- He had been diagnosed with stomach cancer earlier this year.
What’s happening: Politicians and friends, from U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley to Larry Carpman, John Kerry’s former press secretary, shared their memories of Walsh in the wake of his death.
Flashback: The son of Irish immigrants, Walsh graduated to Princeton University and returned to Plymouth County, where he helped a friend launch an unsuccessful campaign for Abington School Committee in 1981, according to the Abington News.
- His friend lost.
- Walsh ran for the local board of selectman two years later and went onto serve 10 years on the board.
- He rose up the ranks in local politics, ultimately leading Patrick’s campaign for governor before serving as chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party between 2007 and 2013.
What they’re saying: With Patrick's campaign, Walsh brought relational organizing back to the forefront of Massachusetts politics, at a time when campaigns relied on TV ad buys.
- "He knew that the path of justice runs through the kitchen tables, civic centers, schools and town squares in every corner of Massachusetts and our country," Markey said in a statement.
Alex Goldstein, CEO of 90 West communications, started his career on the Patrick campaign with Walsh, who served as Patrick's campaign manager.
- “To have the opportunity for your first job in politics to be learning from John Walsh, the godfather of the grassroots, as a grassroots organizer is about as good as it can possibly get,” Goldstein said.
- Goldstein remembers most Walsh’s optimism and compassion: “He was always the one to pull the rest of us out of the darkness when things got bad.”
It’s why Carpman, a public relations veteran and a close friend of Walsh, said he started calling him “Captain Sunshine.”
- The nickname stuck through the years, even into Markey’s campaign in 2020.
The bottom line: "It's hard to imagine a world without John Walsh,” Carpman said.
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