“There does seem to be a certain lack of intensity.”

⁃ Sec. of State Bill Galvin on the 2022 state election

There’s your early leader in the clubhouse for understatement of the year. And according to Galvin, the “slow” pace of mail-in voting points to a turnout of hundreds of thousands fewer voters than the last midterms.

It’s not as if the 2018 ballot was significantly sexier than this year’s uncompetitive dud. The Warren-Diehl Senate race never polled closer than 22 points. The Baker-Gonzalez gubernatorial matchup was like an old Mutt & Jeff comic strip without the hilarity. The ballot questions were low-key affairs.

This cycle features an open governor’s race that held the potential for competitiveness until GOP leadership drove their chances into a bridge abutment, vacancies for attorney general and auditor, and ballot questions touching on third-rail issues of taxation and immigration. And while the Congressional seats are barely contested, a red-hot battle for Capitol control in the lower 49 states could have conceivably pulled out some message-sending locals.

But that doesn’t seem to be happening. So what explains this voter torpor?

Don’t discount tune-out. The two televised gubernatorial debates were a windfall for competing programming. And a Reuters survey earlier this year documented a “sharp” global increase in news avoidance, “with many respondents saying news has a negative effect on their mood.”

Maura Healey, the one candidate who might have used her milk-run race as an opportunity to generate positive excitement around a creative agenda for the future – as Michelle Wu tried to do during her 2021 Boston mayoral bid – has instead run a mostly defensive, no turnovers campaign that reeks of unnecessary insecurity. Case in point: Healey’s conspicuous refusal to endorse state Sen. Becca Rausch for reelection – one of just two out of 19 incumbent Democratic senators she’s dissed this way.

Rausch is not universally adored by her colleagues and apparently pissed off Healey with her active support of Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz’s failed primary campaign. But her challenger, state Rep. Shawn Dooley, is a right-wing Republican who publicly attacked Gov. Charlie Baker at the height of the pandemic as a “King Charles Spaniel” issuing “tyrannical decrees” that have “killed our economy,” comparing his COVID shutdowns and mandates with the terror tactics of the Cold War-era East German secret police.

This is who Healey’s unwilling to stand up against out of petty spite? How are voters supposed to take seriously her latest basketball-analogy-laden TV ad when it claims: “She’s a team player”?

And in fairness to the apathetic, the tone of political discourse is enough to send civilized voters lunging for the off button on their remote. Healey wants cities to be torched by rioters? Trump antithesis Anthony Amore is really a Trumper trying to pass? Come on.

Everything gets blamed on the pandemic these days. And whether you’re a Democrat appalled at the anti-vax, bleach-injecting stupidity of the right’s response to the plague or a Republican disgusted by school and business closures, it isn’t surprising to see them turning away from the entire bleep-show in horror. Grappling with inflation is preoccupying, the failure of political elites to mitigate it alienating.

This is the political hellscape local officeholders face for the near future, a toxic mix of apathy, cynicism and the inchoate anger that spews vitriolic heckling and trolling.

The sad moral of the story for those brave few still willing to seek public office – be careful what you wish for.

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Jon Keller has been covering Beacon Hill for nearly 40 years, giving you a candid take on what’s going on up there. From calling out politicians to the common voter, he shares his take in a weekly column published every Tuesday with MASSterList.