The following is my post predicting a Warren victory in next week’s Massachusetts U.S. Senate race. It appeared in this space on January 13, 2012.
The upcoming U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts between Senator Scott Brown and rising star in the Democratic Party Elizabeth Warren has, is, and will receive more than its share of analysis. The contest for the first full six year senate term since the death of Ted Kennedy is being touted as “one to watch.” According to both campaigns and virtually every journalist or pundit, it is going to be a very competitive and expensive battle. All the polls show a race that looks like it should be a squeaker.
It will definately be expensive, but as for competitive, I doubt it.
In my humble opinion, the Democratic candidate, which will certainly be Elizabeth Warren, is VERY likely to win the election by a comfortable margin. I can’t think of anyone, other than political scientists, with an incentive to highlight the many indicators that this election won’t be close on Election Day. I predicted a solid win for Warren on a local TV talk show only to have the host remind the viewers that I am a liberal Democrat. Ostensibly, he was trying to help viewers judge my objectivity, but no Warren supporter or Democratic operative with a clue about politics would be predicting easy victory for Warren at this point because doing so could be very damaging to the campaign’s message, morale, and momentum. If the race isn’t going to be close, no journalist, pundit, or partisan operative can say so without reducing their own relevance.
Nonetheless, the factors understood by political scientists to be determinative in elections almost all line up in favor of a Warren victory over Scott Brown in the 2012 Massachusetts U.S. Senate race. In 2008, the American political science “establishment” (if there is such a thing) had predicted an easy victory for the Democratic nominee for president by the early spring of that year. The only suspense revolved around the question of which Democrat would be the next president. If you followed the 2008 contest in the media, however, you would have had little chance to evaluate what was essentially “conventional wisdom” among academics. Much the same phenomenon may be occurring this year with the Brown re-election contest, which I believe will be anti-climactic on Election Day.
Why is Scott Brown very likely to lose his re-election bid this fall?
1) Senator Brown’s election happened under “special” circumstances and virtually none of these circumstances will exist this time around.
The size and makeup of the Massachusetts electorate in December, 2010 will be quite different in 2012. Brown’s exploitation of both Tea Party AND progressive anger at President Obama cannot be repeated this year. The TEA Party activists whose energy and GOTV efforts were key to Brown’s victory have long since abandoned him and Bay State progressives will not be willing to express their dissatisfaction with Washington Democrats in 2012 the way they did in 2010, by staying home on Election Day. There is simply too much at stake. If anything, Warren will be the candidate benefitting from “movement” politics due to her links with the “occupy” movement, which despite vigorous TEA Party and Republican Party efforts and resources remains popular with Massachusetts voters.
The national anti-Obama/ anti-Democratic Party mood of early 2010 will be much less potent in 2012, especially in Massachusetts. If Brown’s argument to the voters is that he’s not a social or economic conservative, but rather a moderate so-called “Massachusetts Republican,” then why would a statewide Massachusetts electorate that hasn’t elected a moderate Republican in decades be compelled to do so now? If the “Obama/Warren as left wing extremist” argument doesn’t fly in the Bay State, then the answer is that they would not be so compelled.
Brown has to create an extremist opponent to be marketable as a moderate Republican. There is no credible evidence that he can do so with his Democratic challenger or the White House at this point. His recent efforts to distance himself from Senate Republicans and ingratiate himself to anti-Wall Street voters does seem to illustrate Brown’s understanding that he needs to move left quickly and clearly to be competitive in the fall. Senator Brown is missing no opportunity to separate himself from his party nationally. His recent support for President Obama’s recess appointment to the consumer protection agency Elizabeth Warren designed, as well as his manufactured dust up with Newt Gingrich over the former Speaker’s views on the judiciary; illustrate Brown’s understanding of his ver precarious position.
2) Senator Brown, having only been in office for 22 months prior to his re-election bid, will not enjoy much in the way of incumbency advantage. While he is raising money hand over fist, the national significance of this race and the national stature of his Democratic challenger, as well as her centrality to the narrative that will animate the president’s own re-election campaign, will make her very competitive in fund raising. Also, Warren’s access to the statewide political resources and organization of Governor Patrick, Barrack Obama, John Kerry, and even Hilary Clinton, will undoubtedly be more useful and cost effective than anything Senator Brown can muster. He cannot tout his influence in the Senate either without linking himself with Senate Republicans whose popularity in Massachusetts rivals that of famous serial killers. He can tout his power to check Democratic excess as a way to lure Bay State independents and conservative Democrats, but for every such voter he attracts with this approach, he’s likely to attract as much or more opposition from an electorate that has not complained about liberal excess in Obama’s Washington. Brown can’t realistically hope to ride a protest vote to re-election.
3) Despite what pundits have gushingly called his very impressive retail political skills, this election simply will not be determined by “local” politics or issues. Also, Elizabeth Warren has already proven that she’s no Martha Coakley. Warren’s own political skills appear quite formidable. There is little doubt that Brown and any Republicans hoping he can hold onto his seat are really regretting their opposition to Warren’s appointment to the new consumer protection agency at this point. When Charlie Baker put on his jeans and work boots and drove around the state in a pickup truck, independent voters did not follow because he had nothing tangible to offer them. In 2012, Brown may have the charm and the truck, but he doesn’t have the goods. In an off year contest he may have been able to leverage his usefulness to the state’s business interests into votes, but the size and diversity of the electorate in a presidential year greatly dilutes Brown’s prospects in this regard.
4) What about Brown’s access to Romney organizational resources as well as possible coat tails? The election of a Romney/Brown ally to the Massachusetts state GOP chairmanship may have looked to some like good news for Senator Brown. For this to be true, however, Romney’s organizational resources and his coat tails must be electorally valuable commodities. In Massachusetts, Romney is not likely to be a value added factor for Brown, whose willingness to associate with the former governor and likely Republican nominee thus far may reflect his political inexperience or naiveté. The recent election of a Romney/Brown man to state GOP chairman has only served to harden the resolve of Massachusetts movement conservatives to purge the party of moderates. This is hardly the kind of grass roots passion Brown wants while running for re-election. Furthermore, the tone and trajectory of the ongoing fight for the Republican presidential nomination must be giving Brown’s campaign fits. The attacks on Mitt Romney’s business experience play right into both Warren’s and President Obama’s preferred narratives.
I am not predicting a Warren victory in hopes of becoming the next Nate Silver or a “player” in politics. What I am doing is highlighting the difference between sober systematic political analysis and that of the pundits, politicians, and journalists whose relevance seems to require something a bit different.