Sean Bielat returns to Massachusetts, Scott Brown is about to formally launch his reelection effort, Paul Cellucci endorses Richard Tisei, and Mitt Romney is poised to secure his party’s presidential nomination. Not a bad week for the state’s minority party.
But like a black fly in their chardonnay (don’t judge that I like Alanis), my colleague Professor Duquette has applied some logic to Election 2012 here in the Bay State and has called the Senate election for Professor Warren.
He makes a compelling case to which I only have a few tepid responses.
The election is just over 10 months away and, to state the obvious, a lot can happen that we can’t predict. The President is more popular here than in many other places but not overwhelmingly so. Voters still believe the country is on the wrong track and the economy is not showing signs of robust growth. Recession fears again haunt Europe. The White House has, yet again, shuffled its staff in an attempt to regain its footing. And the GOP nomination fight will end shortly and I believe Romney will be stronger candidate against Obama than many here in the Bay State will admit. Nor am I convincened that preferred narrative of the White House and Warren camp will be the one that resonates in the fall.
Obama will win Massachusetts but the factors above may help loosen the grip his party has over voters here.
Still, over the next 10 months, the Brown camp needs to find a way to do what has never been done in modern Massachusetts history: convince an electorate that will vote for the Democrat in a presidential election to simultaneously pull the lever for the Republican in a Senate race.
Shades of this have occurred in the past: A Republican, Ronald Reagan, won Massachusetts twice while the state sent a large number of Democrats to Congress. In 1984, Massachusetts voters sent Reagan back to the White House and John Kerry to the Senate for the first time. A Democrat, Bill Clinton, won the state in 1992 while two Republicans were sent to Congress. But in 1996, those two Republicans lost as did Senate candidate Bill Weld when Bill Clinton marched to reelection here. You have to go back to 1972 to find a time a Democrat won the state at the presidential level (George McGovern) while a Republican was sent to the Senate (or, sent back to the Senate in the case of Ed Brooke).
Brown is still popular among Bay State voters and though the 2010 special election was a relatively low turnout affair not to be replicated in 2012, he established a persona that voters found attractive. Voter behavior is a tricky thing and they will vote for a candidate they like even if they oppose some of his policies (see Reagan, Ronald). The Republican drive to taint Elizabeth Warren as a radically left-wing elitist is nothing more than an attempt to make the Senator seem like one of us while she is one of them. Us versus them rules American elections. Can Brown convince unenrolled voters and enough Democrats that he’s more in touch with their concerns and their values? I think he can though Warren’s biography will make it difficult for him. As will the resources she has at her disposal to fight back.
Finally, one party control of the state continues to irk voters. Recent headlines have braced us for another round of indictments that will reach into the State House and the Democratic Party. Can unenrolled voters be persuaded to view Brown as the only thing that stands between them and greater levels of one party corruption? It will be tough as Warren is not a product of Beacon Hill or the state Democratic Party. But she will inherit these issues as the party’s standard bearer in the fall. Look for the Brown camp to push this issue aggressively.
Turnout will be key and on that score, the GOP has a lot of catching up to do and little time in which to do it. They need to create a Massachusetts version of the GOP’s efforts in Ohio during the 2004 election. President George W. Bush won in 2004 by losing independent voters and receiving very few cross over Democratic voters. He won by finding more Republicans and getting them to the polls. Brown can’t follow this too closely as he really will need cross-over Democratic support. And where Bush confronted a Kerry-Edwards campaign that essentially bungled Ohio, the Democrats here have mastered a GOTV effort that stalled the Republican efforts in 2010.
Polls show that this is still a close race. We know the Bay State routinely favors Democrats and that in Elizabeth Warren, Scott Brown has a top-tier challenger. But I am not yet convinced that Bay State voters will be sending him back to Wrentham.