Your Next Senator Will Be . . .

Your next senator will surely be (your guess here) and that will set things up for (who knows?) to be your next governor. There is a lot of speculation about how the next two years of politics will play out and it is this sort of expert attention that boosted the successes of Governor Tom Reilly and Senator Martha Coakley, as well as the inevitable re-election of the unbeatable Senator Scott Brown.

The point is that even though we can project possible senate runs by Scott Brown and Democrats like Michael Capuano or Stephen Lynch, or the gubernatorial prospects of Charlie Baker, Tim Murray, or Steve Grossman, each of these notable figures might prove a paper tiger against someone not on our radar at all.

Consider my absolute favorite Scott Brown poll, the March 2009 Suffolk University/7News poll, which asked “If Ted Kennedy were to vacate his U.S. Senate seat, who would you like to see run for the U.S. Senate seat?” It is my favorite Scott Brown poll because he’s not in it. Seventeen politicians are named in the poll report, none of them Scott Brown. That was a mere ten months before he rocked the state and nation with his defeat of Attorney General Coakley.

A year later Brown was so entrenched, his popularity so widespread, his fundraising so prolific, that prominent Democrats virtually tripped over themselves to get out of his way. No one of any prominence would take him on. The Democratic primary looked like it would shape up as 2009 also-ran Alan Khazei and the seven dwarfs. Brown’s skill was such that Democratic political strategist and WBUR commentator Dan Payne wrote in the Boston Globe that Brown seemed unbeatable, but . . . “Still, the only way Democrats beat Brown next year is to find a candidate of substance and stature, like Elizabeth Warren. Otherwise Brown, like The Dude, will likely abide.”

Sure. A first-time candidate Harvard professor from Oklahoma then working as a federal bureaucrat. That’ll work.

And what about that fellow who knocked off a sitting attorney general, sitting lieutenant governor, and the smartest man in state government, Charlie Baker? Oh yes, Deval Patrick.

Governor Patrick recalled the early days of his improbable 2006 win at a recent post-election chat arranged by Boston PR firm SolomonMcCown. He would go around the state meeting the politically astute, who would ask two questions: Do you have any name recognition? And do you have any money? And of course since the answer to both questions was “No,” that was the end of Deval Patrick.

Keep in mind that Warren and Patrick had never run for office before and had to learn to love that dirty water; Patrick grew up in Chicago and Warren in Oklahoma. If it’s possible to be more unknown than an out-of-stater, Brown assured his obscurity by being a Republican legislator. And each of them bested our most well-known political figures.

The cases of Patrick, Brown, and Warren bring to mind Donald Rumsfeld’s most famous quote:  “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Rumsfeld had a point. It’s the unknown unknowns that so baffle the political insiders and experts.






About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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7 Responses to Your Next Senator Will Be . . .

  1. Pingback: Headlines for Tuesday, November 20, 2012 » MASSterList

  2. Pingback: Capuano says he’d consider if there was anything to consider – Vicki for interim? – And what about the dark horse candidates? – GOP Rep wants to tax leftover campaign cash – Patrick looking into unsafe Highway Safety director 

  3. Tim says:

    One of my favorite feature of Commonwealth magazine is something they do call the nine nations of Massachusetts. It shifts over the years as voting patterns change but they generally have been able to map out contigous regions that all vote a certain way such as Left Fields, Cranberry Country, Bigger Boston, Shoppers World etc. What is perhaps most interesting about the latest Senate election is the degree to which Brown actually did well in the areas of the state that Commonwealth has historically commented are important to winning statewide. Warren really only did well in Bigger Boston, Left Fields, Edge Cities, and to a lesser extent Shoppers World. In Wellelsley for example Brown and Warren I believe split the town almost 50 50.

    Now to be clear the real lesson in all of this I think is that presidential year elections are DIFFERENT in terms of turnout compared to gubernatoral elections. However, if I was the next Democratic nomimee(or thinking of trying to be the next democratic nominee for governor) I would tend be a little nervous going into 2014. I personally have supported Deval Patrick strongly in both elections however, in my mind it is quite apparent that the inevitable “mud” that starts to stick to parties and politicans in power for a long time is going to start to stick to Patrick and the Democrats. The Democrats also have a problem that the three most prominent candidates on deck are not Deval Patrick and instead look a lot like(fairly or unfairly) traditional Beacon Hill Democratic Insiders.

  4. Tim says:

    I will also say I am in fact really looking forward to the next governor’s race because I think by 2014 there will be some really substantive issues that need to be debated in areas like transportation and energy. I have generally supported Gov. Patrick transportation policies up to now but if you want to go ahead with South Coast Commuter Rail example you could be taking about raising someone who commutes on existing commuter rail lines T Pass from $250 a month to $300 month. That type of fair increase cannot be hidden and begs the question for example what type of expansion projects the T has proposed are really necessary.

  5. Maurice T. Cunningham says:


    Thoughtful analyses, as always. I’ve enjoyed the CW Magazine regional take as well and used it in my classes. Geography isn’t my strongest approach so if you’ve done the analysis and would share it send it along. I haven’t done the turnout analysis for presidential vs gubernatorial year either but as we found out just recently, it matters an enormous amount. I’d agree on your view of the Democratic field and wonder, is there an “unknown unknown” out there?

  6. Pingback: Algebra of “Your Next Senator Will Be …” | MassPoliticsProfs

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