It's the Democrats race...
With the passing of Ted Kennedy, I like many assumed that the person elected to fill the remainder of his senate term would be a Democrat. After all, Massachusetts is the bluest of the blue states and Ted Kennedy a liberal icon who had been a symbol of the Democratic party for so long it seemed he could have founded it. When Attorney General Martha Coakley announced her intentions to run it seemed a done deal. Coakley had statewide name recognition was reasonably popular and had an organization that hit the ground running. Coakley dominated the primary campaign and it became clear that her Democrat rivals never stood a chance. Even the Kennedy family endorsing one of her opponents did little to affect her momentum.
A Reasonable Republican...
Scott Brown on the other hand began his quest for the Republican nomination with little name recognition in a race that nobody was paying any attention to. Brown overwhelmingly won the Republican primary, but turnout was extremely low and only 12% of Massachusetts voters are Republicans. How could he hope to beat Coakley in January?
Closing the Gap...
When Scott Brown won the Republican Primary in December HIS campaign was just beginning, in contrast most would have assumed that Coakley's was done and all she had to do was sit back and let the clock run out. Certainly it seems that was the attitude of the Coakley camp it seems that we hardly heard a peep out of Martha. As Brown canvassed the state more and more people began to pay attention. Who knows why? Did the message resonate? Were people upset that the Democrats seemed to assume an easy win? Was it health care in Washington or national defense? This is really the key that the pundits are going to debate over and over again but it is safe to say for a combination of reasons Scott Brown found himself closing the gap.
With Scott closing the gap it suddenly looked like a race! I found myself shocked at the thought and energized by the notion. A low turnout, like many were expecting may have allowed an energized Republican Party with the help of independents to pull off a surprise win. It seemed with all the news coverage of the closeness of the race energized Brown's supporters firmly putting momentum on his side.
Even then the Coakley campaign seemed to caught flat footed, last minute efforts were put in place to bring in big names like President Clinton and even President Obama. It was leaked to me that efforts to get Democrats mobilized here in Fall River didn't start until this past weekend and when the party faithful started going door to door they were shocked and awed to find out that the Republican effort had already been out in force.
For the first time in almost 40 years...
Now that it was a race it seemed anything could happen on election day. A high turnout was now being predicted. Would the sudden Brown surge motivate the Democrat faithful to come out in force? Would independent voters come out for Brown as strongly as the polls indicated? The one thing that was certain is nobody was taking a Democrat win as a given and several pundits were already calling it a Brown victory. When all was said and done the pundits and polls turned out to be right and Scott Brown became the first Republican elected to the U.S. Senate since 1972.
Lefty's View: I'm giddy! Massachusetts just elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate! That said, I've heard an awful lot of talk about how this was a mandate for the Republican party, a sign of a resurgence of Republicanism in Massachusetts. I've heard that this was a clear indicator that Republicans would regain some seats in the House and Senate in this Fall's elections. I think that's a lot of nonsense. Scott Brown's victory is an amazing accomplishment but one that came about due to many, many factors. Scott Brown has been called a moderate, a populist, a centrist, and an independent. There is a probably some truth to all those labels and Republicans, independents, and even some Democrats could find something to relate to with Brown. Brown was able to define himself as an independent thinker, beholden to no one, a regular guy with humble beginnings. There is a lot in that for people to identify with. The issues he ran on resonated with the concerns of Massachusetts voters. A national health care policy that is almost universally believed to be imperfect has little appeal for a state that has 98% of its residents insured. A candidate crying out for tax cuts and more fiscal commonsense is appealing to residents effected by Massachusetts fiscal woes. Along with that there is Martha Coakley's failure to ignite any sort of passion in the hearts of voters after the primary. Most of us didn't vote in the primary and didn't pay attention. When the race heated up the people Martha did excite were to few and the voters who were now paying attention hadn't heard from her. If she had canvassed the state, had the Kennedy's go around the state on her behalf, or even just paid more attention to what her opponent was doing things probably would have been different.
Scott Brown's election was like capturing lightening in a bottle, a perfect combination of events and circumstances that led to victory. Brown will have a tougher job winning reelection in 2012, when I suspect Massachusetts turns 'blue' again. There is some lessons here for the Massachusetts Republican Party:
1. First and foremost run credible candidates with statewide appeal, to do otherwise keeps the party from any chance of being taken seriously.
2. The best chance for Republicans to win more seats is to run candidates with broad appeal to independents and conservative Democrats. Moderate Republicans are not embraced by the party but with 12% or less of Massachusetts voters registering as Republicans, the party needs to realize that it HAS to move to the left to have an credibility in the state. That means embracing moderates.
3. As the minority party Republicans can't compete with traditional machine politics, yet can still excite the base and bring in new voters by running grassroot campaigns.
Scott Brown has laid down a pretty good blueprint for Republicans in Massachusetts to use. Let's see if anyone is paying attention.