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Remembering Dan Payne, storied Mass. politico and WBUR analyst

After almost countless conversations with Dan Payne on the radio on many an election night and on WBUR’s Morning Edition, it is really hard to say goodbye.

Dan Payne.
Dan Payne.

Dan, on the Democratic side, and Todd Domke, on the Republican side, were regular fixtures on WBUR for many, many years as we hashed out the happenings and craziness in local political election races in everything from municipal, gubernatorial and Congressional races in Massachusetts, to U.S. Senate campaigns, New Hampshire presidential primaries, and the general election.

Dan died earlier this month at the age of 79 from cancer. The political consultant and commentator had a storied career with clients that included U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Ed Markey, and U.S. Reps. Barney Frank and John Tierney. He taught at Harvard's Kennedy School and commented on presidential campaigns for NPR and WBUR, as well as The Boston Globe and other area news outlets.

I recall the first time I asked Dan and Todd to start having our political conversations live on Morning Edition instead of recording them a day ahead of time.

“You want us to come in at what time of the morning?” Dan complained, fully knowing (I like to believe) that he’d do it even if it was 6 a.m.

So in they’d trek — bleary-eyed Dan guzzling something warm, and Todd with his raft of scribbled notes — and away we’d go, digging deep into the campaign or politics at hand.

From my point of view, the beauty and value of these conversations was that even though Dan and Todd, as longtime political consultants, had worked hard for candidates in their own parties, they were perfectly willing to be critical — sometimes be very critical — of pols of their own political persuasion.

“A bonehead being boneheaded deserves it,” Dan said to me at one point. Then we laughed.

Dan’s willingness, and Todd’s, to be frank gave them instant and deep credibility with WBUR listeners. Many listeners wrote or messaged me over the years expressing appreciation.

But Dan’s partisanship spilled out in late 2016 after Donald Trump’s presidential win. Shortly before the election Dan and his wife, Nicole, held a party at their home for a handful of political writers. I was there, too. The game of the night was for each of us to predict what the electoral college map would look like after ballot counting.

I recall counting big for Trump, giving him a block of the Midwest and battleground states such as Pennsylvania. Dan thought I was betting too heavy on red. But he phoned me shortly after election day expressing political regret that I was right, telling me I’d won the party prize, one of those now ubiquitous red MAGA baseball caps.

I told Dan that as a non-partisan reporter I couldn’t take the hat and that he should keep it as a souvenir. He laughed and said, “Well, as a very partisan political guy, I’m going to shred the damn hat.”

I’ve chuckled many times since as I imagine Dan shredding the hat, and re-shredding it — repeatedly — over the years.

I’d like to say, "rest easy, my friend."

But I prefer to think of Dan now forever whispering sage advice into the ears of political figures and their advisers. Or pulling up close, looking them in the eye and saying “You bonehead.”

I miss Dan already.


Bob Oakes Senior Correspondent
Bob Oakes was a senior correspondent in the WBUR newsroom, a role he took on in 2021 after nearly three decades hosting WBUR's Morning Edition.



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