Friday, August 10, 2012

Massachusetts U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Massachusetts U.S. Senate

August 10, 2012
88 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Tossup (R)

While Massachusetts is one of the most liberal and strongly Democrat states in the country, it produced a political shocker in the first month of 2010 that also previewed that year's strong showing for the GOP. A Republican State Senator named Scott Brown, (whose daughter Ayla, a former American Idol semifinalist was better known nationally) became a political celebrity with a shocking special election victory to fill the remainder of the term of the late liberal legend Ted Kennedy. While Brown was considered a good politician, he was given virtually no chance of winning the "Kennedy Seat" over the state's popular female Attorney General, but very late in the race, polls showed that Brown had a real chance, and having made a connection to the voters, both personally and on the issues, he pulled off one of the biggest political upsets in history by nearly five points.

Arriving in Washington D.C, in his famed pickup truck, Brown quickly became a star in his party and in the media. Some talked about him as a potential Presidential candidate, but his more moderate views on social issues would have made it hard for him to be viable in the national GOP. Instead, Brown quickly voiced support for his friend Mitt Romney, whom he had been a legislative ally of in Massachusetts, and who helped him in a major way win the Senate seat. The new U.S. Senator also wrote a well-received memoir in which he talked candidly about a difficult family life and upbringing as a child, including instances of abuse.

While Brown was still riding high from his victory, many Democrats considered his election a fluke and believed that once he cast votes with the GOP on Capitol Hill, his popularity would fall at home, and that they would have a great chance of beating him for a full six year term during a Presidential election year.

However, numerous Democrats decided not to take a risk on taking on Brown, including the widow and other members of Ted Kennedy's family once again. Some "B level" Democrats entered the race, but they were soon eclipsed by a later entrant, whom the party had banked on. Eventually all the other Democrats were forced to fold their campaigns or failed to capture enough votes at the party convention to make the September ballot.

Facing Brown this fall will be Elizabeth Warren, an author and Harvard Law School professor, who has never run for office, but amassed quite a popular reputation with liberals nationwide for her advocacy of a federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She was installed by Barack Obama as the temporary first head of such an agency, but Republican opposition nixed the plans to permanently give her that job. That has now freed her up to run for the Senate.

If Brown was loved (at least for a time) by Republican activists nationwide for taking over a Senate seat that was deemed hopeless, Warren is even more beloved by the left, and her campaign donations from around the country prove it. She is being given a prominent role at next month's national party convention, and even before her run for the Senate is anywhere close to being decided, she is being included in polling questions about the Presidential candidates in 2016. That might really be putting the cart in front of the horse, but liberals were downright giddy over video clips showing her expressing her admiration for government action and for her reputation as wanting to be a relentless check on business interests. Her rhetoric was recently parroted by Obama in his controversial "you didn't build that" remarks in regards to small businesses.

The Brown-Warren race, as polling has indicated throughout the year, is close, and should remain that way. It will also be quite an expensive and down and dirty race as the candidates and their allies will do everything they can to poison the image of one another. Not only this seat in Massachusetts, but the entire balance of power in the Senate could of course be on the line.

Democrats will hope that their party's huge registration and identity edge will push them over the point of victory, as far more of them will turn out than did in a January 2010 special election. They will do everything they can to tie Brown to national Republican leadership and for more conservative and controversial figures in the party.

Republicans have gotten some breaks throughout the course of the campaign by wounds that Warren has inflicted upon herself. One relates to taxes as Warren was recently forced to pull back a demand that Brown release more years of tax returns, when it turned out that he had already released more years of them than she has, and she has no desire to release any more.

An even more entertaining controversy occurred in the spring when it was revealed that during her time at Harvard, Warren had chosen to list her ethnicity as Native American and likely benefited professionally and financially for being a racial minority, though she claims she just wanted to meet people from similar backgrounds. Warren was forced to admit during the campaign that she is only 1/32 Cherokee but that she always identified with the American Indian community because family members had "high cheekbones." This whole brouhaha was quite delightful to conservatives nationwide, who have enjoyed bestowing Native American names on Warren, such as "Fauxcohantas, "Hunts at Whole Foods" and "Sitting Bullsh*t."

While that episode could be used to try to call into question Warren's honesty and integrity, the election is also going to come down to more substantive policy matters. The Democrat will have strong support from her party, but in order to be reelected, Brown is going to need to get a lot of votes from people who are not Republicans in a state where they are so relatively sparse. While the Senator is fairly conservative on a lot of issues, he has cast some votes in Washington that have displeased many on the right, but would be more popular back at home. In this campaign, he has been endorsed by a former Democrat Mayor of Boston, and by Michael Bloomberg, a Massachusetts native, who is now the very socially liberal Mayor of New York City.

Throughout the year, some polls have given a slight edge to either candidate, but basically the race is a true tossup and will go down to the wire. Debates, (sometimes feisty affairs with participatory audiences at Boston's famed Faneuil Hall) have had major impact on Bay State elections in the past and may do so again. Brown definitely benefited from his debate showings in the special election and the candidate who has never lost an election will try to outperform his first time candidate opponent.

All things considered, I have to give a slight edge to the incumbent Brown. The state definitely prefers Democrats, but I think Brown will be able to make a personal connection with the voters, as he has before, in a way that Warren may not be able to. Brown's former television anchor wife and two attractive daughters will get notice on the campaign trail, as will Brown himself of course, as the former Cosmo model might earn the vote of some women, even if just for superficial reasons. I just have a hunch that in a state like Massachusetts, which has so rarely sent a Republican to Washington in recent decades, he will once again do a bit better on Election Day than some of the polls at this point are going to indicate.

Perhaps the main thing that could save Brown's job and this seat for the Republicans, is the fact that he will be running on a ticket with his friend and former Governor, Mitt Romney. Sure, Obama will win Romney's home state handily, and Brown will have to be careful not to allow the Senate race to be tied too closely with that for President there, but Romney will at least run many points better than any of the other Republicans who sought the nomination would have in Massachusetts, and better than any other Republican would at well. Those Romney/Brown votes could wind up proving the margin of victory.

This is a race instance where a Presidential candidate will soundly be defeated in a state but could have important coattails nonetheless.

Brown campaign link:

2012 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 7 D, 3 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 37 D, 40 R