She cleared the Democratic field for governor. Now Healey is redefining the race to be his running mate.

Driscoll, a five-term mayor of Salem, said she is a seasoned “on the ground” leader who can complement Healey’s profile statewide. Lesser, a state senator from Longmeadow and a former Obama White House official, pointed to the balance a Western Massachusetts prospect would bring to a ticket with Healey, a Democrat from the South End. Gouveia, a state representative and longtime social worker, said her “content expertise” in public health would complement a Governor Healey program.

“Let her define [the race] or not, whether she’s the only gubernatorial candidate defines how they run their campaigns,” said Steve Kerrigan, who ran as Martha Coakley’s running mate in 2014 after securing the Democratic nomination in position of lieutenant governor.

“They need to look at his campaign, his skills and his experience and find ways to be an additive to what makes them valuable to the ticket,” he said, “and to the dyed-in-the-wool People of Healy.

This dynamic and the ho-hum gubernatorial primary that created it is an unusual situation in modern Massachusetts politics. In the past 50 years, Democratic primary voters have encountered an uncontested gubernatorial race only twice, when Deval Patrick ran for re-election in 2010 and when Michael Dukakis did so in 1986. And this never happened on the Democratic side during this period. was an open seat.

But after State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz ended her gubernatorial bid in June and left the field to Healey, any questions about which team the lieutenant governor candidates would team up with has evaporated. This allowed a Healey-steeped pitch to quickly fill the void for what is, officially, a very sparse constitutional role.

Beyond chairing the Governor’s Council — the eight-person body that vets and votes on nominees for the governorship — the lieutenant governor’s only other formal responsibility is to replace the governor if he or she die or leave office.

This allows governors to essentially shape the work of their lieutenant. Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, a former Shrewsbury State Legislator, served as the towns and villages liaison for Governor Charlie Baker. Tim Murray, former mayor of Worcester, held a similar position under Governor Deval Patrick before stepping down in 2013.

‘I see a visible change in the way people talk’ about the race, said state senator Adam Hinds, himself a candidate for lieutenant governor before being knocked off the field at the convention of June from the State Party. “Voters are really looking for who will be a good partner with Maura.”

Admittedly, a candidate’s compatibility with the Healey questions will likely differ from voter to voter. And other factors, including the emergence of a super PAC to boost Driscoll’s candidacy, could also influence what is still a low-key race.

But the contestants are embracing the idea of ​​showing how they relate to Healey.

Driscoll last month went so far as to post a video endorsement of Healey, despite her being the only Democrat still in the running. Appearing at a meeting with leaders of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers last week, she told them she could be a ‘partner with a Governor Healey, to think about how we champion the work of cities gateways”.

“She held a statewide position and did a great job as an AG. . . . I’ve been on the ground in the communities,” Driscoll said afterwards. “It’s a really strong combination.”

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll campaigned for the post of lieutenant governor, speaking to labor officials in Wilmington earlier this month.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Lesser also presented himself as the one best positioned to help achieve Healey’s goals, in ways that were both subtle and obvious. A 30-second ad he ran last month aimed to make Massachusetts more affordable, with a mainstay of Healey’s own campaign promising to cut taxes.

While touring downtown Franklin last Thursday, he repeatedly mentioned his ties to merchants in western Massachusetts, including his support for the facility high-speed passenger train service between Springfield and Boston.

“I’m the only candidate for this race outside of 495,” he told a group of two dozen people at a winery in town. Circulating among them, he also touted his efforts for a student loan bill of rights — an initiative he worked on with Healey’s office.

State Senator Eric Lesser campaigned for downtown Franklin’s lieutenant governorship earlier this month.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Gouveia, an Acton state representative who has backed some of the more progressive corners of the party, was the first candidate to launch a campaign for lieutenant governor and has stressed throughout that the fight against barriers to mental health is one of the main problems facing the state. .

She said she also believed voters wanted a lieutenant governor who was “a little more independent.” That, and her background in social work — she has a doctorate in public health — could be a plus in a Healey administration, she said.

“Being a good teammate is being able to have divergent ideas, so by solving those problems you find the best solutions,” Gouveia said.

State Rep. Tami Gouveia campaigned for lieutenant governor in Somerville earlier this month.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Then, of course, there’s a question of what Healey plans for his running mate.

Healey hasn’t been shy about tossing endorsements in competitive primaries, including amid his own gubernatorial bid. She backed Andrea J. Campbell to be her successor in the attorney general’s office, slotting into a three-way primary just weeks before the Sept. 6 vote.

But she has publicly avoided signaling any preference for a running mate, and advisers say Healey does not intend to endorse the lieutenant governor’s run, believing one of the three would benefit from the ticket. She also formed working relationships with them, particularly with Lesser and Driscoll — bonds that both lieutenant governor hopefuls highlighted.

“The voters are going to decide who the nominee for lieutenant governor will be,” Healey told reporters last week in Lawrence.

Republican candidates for Massachusetts governor have a long history of bringing in a running mate in an effort to broaden their appeal ahead of the primary. Baker turned to former Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei in his first gubernatorial bid before teaming up with Polito early in his 2014 run in what was seen as an opening to more conservative Republicans.

Republicans Geoff Diehl and Chris Doughty also picked running mates ahead of the September primary, each teaming up with former state lawmakers in Leah Allen and Kate Campanale.

But trying to choose a running mate from a competitive group of lieutenants has already proven difficult for Democrats.

In the 2006 gubernatorial primary, then-Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly first held talks with millionaire businessman Chris Gabrieli about being his running mate before pivoting to choosing then-State Representative Marie St. Fleur. But that fell apart hours after The Globe reported she had outstanding tax debts, and St. Fleur quickly pulled out.

Scott Ferson, a strategist who worked on Murray’s run in 2006 but is not involved in any of this year’s campaigns, said he was “looking for signs” of Healey’s preference and wondered if she could officially help out in the race if it would help. sort out a tightly knotted contest.

“Would she? If she’s wrong, that would be embarrassing,” Ferson said. “But governors don’t have to worry about their lieutenant governor either.”

Samantha J. Gross of The Globe staff contributed to this report.


Matt Stout can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.

Denise W. Whigham