Monday, January 18, 2010

A Final Thought on Mass...

So, I finished my write up and posted it as Tossup (R), before I saw the 5 or 6 polls that came out today that show Brown with a building lead. Might not even be that close.... but per policy, my prediction and my rankings will stand....

Be afraid Democrats, be very afraid...

Go Scott Brown!

Massachusetts U.S. Senate Special Election

Massachusetts U.S. Senate

Status: Democrat Open

2008 Presidential Result: Blue State

Prediction: Tossup (R)

Tomorrow’s special U.S. Senate election in the Bay State has the potential to be one of the most significant and ultimately surprising electoral events in decades. There could be books written about this relatively brief race, and perhaps one day there will be. I just hope to be able to contribute some stream of consciousness thoughts on this contest.

While political observers and media types sometimes tend to over-inflate various special Congressional elections, this particular one cannot be exaggerated. The outcome of the Democrats’ push for health care legislation in Congress may hinge on the ballot and the results could send shockwaves through the nation, indicating that Democrats are in for a brutal 2010 midterm season. The fact that such a federal race in ultra-blue Massachusetts has even reached this point of examination, and has seen so much money and manpower flow into the state, indicates that even if the Democrat ekes out a victory at the polls tomorrow, Republicans nationwide might still be able to claim victory. There may be no such thing in politics as a “moral victory”, but this would be about as close as one could get.

When legendary Democrat Senator Ted Kennedy was suffering with brain cancer, there was some talk that he would choose to step aside and allow his seat to be filled, certainly of course by a Democrat, in the strongest state in the country for the party, in order for someone to be a player on Capitol Hill on Kennedy’s signature issue of health care. Kennedy though chose to remain in office until the end of his life, and when he passed away last year, few doubted that his seat would not be kept by a Democrat.

As it was, the Massachusetts State Legislature went about changing state law to allow the state’s Democrat Governor to appoint a temporary replacement. While most states have laws allowing for a Governor to appoint a member of their party to any U.S. Senate vacancy, Massachusetts had changed their law a few years back, when the state had a Republican Governor, and many believed the state’s other Democrat Senator would be elected President.

Despite some protests nationally and in the Commonwealth itself, Democrats did move pretty swiftly to allow the Governor to appoint a placeholder Senator in longtime Kennedy associate Paul Kirk. They were however stuck with the need for a 2010 special election, in which the seat would be open. To the surprise of some, both Senator Kennedy’s widow Vicki and his nephew, former Congressman Joseph Kennedy II, declined to seek the seat. Had they run, with the Kennedy name, to replace Teddy, they would have been near locks. Instead, a field of four major candidates emerged for the Democrats, and the winner of the primary was Attorney General Martha Coakley, who had easily won statewide election. She now set her sights on doing what no other Massachusetts woman had ever done; be elected in a race for either U.S. Senate or Governor.

Befitting the party’s record in federal races in the state, considering no Republican had won a House seat since 1994 or a Senate seat since the 1970s, the GOP primary was almost an afterthought. For a while, there was speculation that retired pitcher Curt Schilling, of Red Sox bloody sock legend, could be the supported candidate of Republicans due to name recognition. He passed on the race though. The easy winner of the GOP primary turned out to be State Senator Scott Brown, a politically attractive candidate, who was also a Lt. Colonel in the Army National Guard. Additionally, Brown’s wife had been a local television news personality for many years, and one of his daughters Ayla, was both a basketball standout at Boston College, and a semi-finalist on American Idol a few years back (to briefly put on my Idol blogger hat, Ayla would have fared better had she not sang “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield, several months before that song really took off.) State Senator Brown’s biography also included a stint back as a young man in the 1980’s when he posed in a strategically nude way for Cosmopolitan magazine.

When the brief special general election began, a poll showed Coakley ahead of Brown by upwards of 30 points. Few expected a real contest at all. There was some belief though that if Brown made a respectable race of it and exceeded expectations, he could possibly be set up in a stronger position for a potential bid for a statewide office. Had I rated this contest three weeks ago, I would have had it as Likely Democrat. A week ago, I would have still had it as Leans Democrat, and indeed two days ago, as it was clear that this race had not gone according to plan, I would have listed it as a Tossup, but with a slight edge to Coakley. However, on the eve of the election, I still think it is a Tossup, but my hunch is that Brown is actually more likely than not to pull it off.

I will try to go into some brief details on what the campaign has seen, but overall, Brown has run a very good campaign, and Coakley has run a very bad one. It probably would have taken a perfect storm for a Republican to have a chance in Massachusetts, especially with the legacy of the recently departed last Kennedy Brother on the line, but this race has turned into a perfect storm. Republicans across the country seem energized by the candidacy of the relatively moderate; by national GOP standards, Brown, while Democrats are panicked at what should have been an easy victory perhaps going down the drain. If Brown wins, the Democrats filibuster proof 60 seat U.S. Senate majority disappears overnight, and that could bring about significant changes, if not an outright killing of the Obama Administration’s health care bill, which passed the Senate at the end of last year. If Brown wins, there could be a national uproar if Democrats in Boston and Washington delay a certification and allowing him to be sworn into office; in order to allow the interim Democrat Kirk to remain in office for a longer amount of time than he would have the Democrat won. Of course, the voting still has to take place, and it might truly be undecided for a few days, but if there are shenanigans at play in the hypothetical seating of Brown, the implications could be tremendous.

Needless to say, the polls in this race have changed dramatically. It was considered a big deal when polling data indicated that Brown had moved to within single digits of Coakley, and many thought that the appearance of the race on the national radar would awaken the slumbering Coakley campaign and Democrats nationwide to be mobilized to save the seat. While they certainly have gotten more involved, more recent polls showed the race even closer, and at this point, the majority of polls how Brown with a lead, perhaps even outside the margin of error. The race has become nationalized by both parties with Democrats trying to tie Brown to the national GOP, and with President Obama making a campaign appearance in the state yesterday on behalf of Coakley. It has even been written that the White House now believes this race could be a lost cause.

The Coakley campaign has seemed to make numerous missteps in recent days, after having first been criticized for taking the contest for granted and planning to coast to victory on the strength of the Democrats’ party advantage in Massachusetts. Coakley gaffed in the one debate by claiming that terrorists were no longer present in Afghanistan, and she has also made comments which seem to indicate that practicing Catholics should not work in hospital emergency rooms, and inexplicably that retired Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling was a “Yankees fan.” For his part, Brown had a very strong debate, and received plaudits for a sound bite directed to moderator David Gergen that the seat up for election was not the “Kennedy seat” but the “people’s seat.”

If Democrats are to win this race, it will be because the party was scared enough to mobilize and that the party organizations and labor unions (and perhaps ACORN) were able to carry the day over the much smaller Republican organization in the state. Independent voters are polling heavily in favor of Brown, but Democrats still have a 3-1 edge over Republicans in voter registration.

Some will say the race is a referendum on federal health care legislation, which despite the overwhelmingly liberal slant of Massachusetts, is considered less popular than would be expected in the state. A factor may be that the state already has its own version of universal coverage, which has seen mixed popularity. However, the fact that the federal legislation would not have as much of an impact on covering more citizens of the state could indicate that voters are more worried about factors such as the tax increases and may be voting strategically to end the Democrats’ U.S. Senate supermajority and see the health care bill defeated.

As in all special elections, the turnout means so much. Conventional wisdom is that a lower turnout benefits Brown, since he has the advantage of voter intensity and has seemingly been riding a bit of a populist wave in the past week or so. If the race is close, every little factor could make the difference. That includes an expected snowstorm tomorrow in part of the state, as well as the presence on the ballot of the Libertarian
nominee, who just happens to be named Joseph Kennedy II.

It is still almost unthinkable to consider the Democrats might lose this race, and while the polls have moved in Brown’s favor, it should still very much be considered a tossup. If Coakley finds a way to survive, the national Democrat Party will breathe a huge sigh of relief that she was able to retain the U.S. Senate seat of John F. and Edward M. Kennedy, but even if that happens, Republican spirits nationwide have been buoyed. Sure, the party will be let down if Brown does not finish on top, but the thinking will go, “well, it was only Massachusetts” after all, and considering how much the Democrats had to sweat to defend what should have been a slam-dunk, Republicans will consider themselves marching towards the November midterms with a large amount of momentum.

And if Scott Brown reclaims the U.S. Senate seat of Henry Cabot Lodge, except one heck of a Grand Old Party in Boston and across the U.S.A.