Scott Brown 2012: Always Combative, Never Competitive

If the UMass Minuteman football team were to play the New England Patriots in an exhibition game and win, how many football fans and analysts would give them a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning a re-match?

The outcome of the 2012 race for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts became virtually certain the day it became clear that Elizabeth Warren would be the Democratic Party’s standard bearer. I say “virtually” because Senator Brown continued to have one longshot chance to win. If he had succeeded in making Warren an unacceptable candidate (preferably by Labor Day), it would have been possible -though still very unlikely- for him to overcome the mountain of built-in structural advantages that a viable Democratic candidate for Congress has in the Bay State. The re-election of Democratic Congressman John Tierney, despite serious personal credibility issues, reflects the difficulty of disqualifying Democratic candidates in Massachusetts.

The fates of the Republican Senate nominees in Missouri and Indiana, however, do provide examples of what would have been Brown’s only real shot at winning. In each of those bright red states, the only serious hurdle between the Republican nominees and the Senate was personal acceptability. If these two right wingers didn’t trip over the acceptability tipping point by becoming the Republican Party’s “rape guys,” it’s hard to imagine them coming up short on Election Day. It’s important to note here that even if Warren had gotten caught up in a real scandal or been tripped up by a stupid comment, it would have to have been a doozy to dissuade Massachusetts moderate Democrats.

Maybe if Warren had advocated shooting pro-life demonstrators who blocked access to abortion clinics, or insisted repeatedly that God is dead. I emphasize “maybe.” Even then, there was another significant group of voters who would not be deterred this time around. The many progressives who stayed home in the 2010 special election out of disappointment with Obama’s concessions to Republicans on key progressive issues were determined to help correct their mistake, something made easier to stomach with Elizabeth Warren as the Democratic nominee. The fact that Martha Coakley was a Democratic insider and life long partisan pol undoubtedly made it easier for Bay State progressives to put principle over politics on that cold January day in 2010.

Early on in the 2012 contest it seemed like the Brown camp understood what he was up against. You certainly have to admit that they tried hard to find useful dirt on the “professor.” Many will no doubt speculate that if Brown had not agreed to discourage outside ad buys by third party groups, he would have made greater progress in discrediting Warren. While there is a clear logic to this theory, it’s certainly not a slam dunk. The fate of Linda McMahon in Connecticut seems to reflect the limitations of big money, “dark” or otherwise, in overcoming the cultural and structural advantages of Democrats in deep blue states.

So, since Elizabeth Warren wasn’t turned into Cruella Deville in the minds of moderate Bay State voters, her victory was essentially assured by factors well beyond the control of either campaign. Of course, the nature of the Brown campaign’s mudslinging also helped Warren. The charges against her, combined with the attitudes and rhetoric of those who advanced and/or believed these charges, were very off putting to the segment of the electorate that Brown needed to win; moderate Obama supporters. The dim witted “Tomahawk Choppers” were only the most reported on “Brown shirts for Brown.” Anyone following the race on social media was exposed daily to incredibly crass, sexist, and virulently anti-intellectual diatribes by Brown supporters and surrogates. Like President Obama, Elizabeth Warren was blessed with VERY useful detractors.

The fact that the outcome was never in doubt in no way diminishes the tremendous educational opportunity that the story of this election provides for students of politics. We here at will continue to dissect and analyze the implications of this race for Massachusetts and American politics. The fact that the outcome was never in doubt will also fail to prevent pundits and politicos from playing Monday morning quarterback and attributing victory and/or defeat to variables that actually had very little if any impact on the outcome of the race. What if Brown did this? What if Warren said that? I suppose I’m okay with this decidedly unscientific, non-data based approach to analyzing politics. It’s certainly fun and it does help provide some measure of political awareness. I just sometimes wish that media punditry and political talk came with the disclaimer “for entertainment purposes only.”

About Jerold Duquette

Jerold Duquette is an associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University. He is the author of Regulating the National Pastime: Baseball and Antitrust and has published articles and book chapters on campaign finance reform, political parties, Massachusetts politics and political culture, public opinion, and political socialization. Professor Duquette lives in Longmeadow, MA with his wife and four children.
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