Algebra of “Your Next Senator Will Be …”

Last week I posted Your Next Senator Will Be … in which I noted that while speculating on the identity of our next US senator or governor is an entertaining pastime,   recent experience with Deval Patrick, Scott Brown, and Elizabeth Warren should caution all of us about our  capability with a crystal ball. Some comments and conversations about the topic got me thinking about what common factors might have contributed to each upset victory. So here is my mathematic-looking but unscientific thought on why Patrick, Brown, and Warren won: each ran from the outside and stood for something, and their opponents really didn’t.

Here is my formula: name recognition+money+cause for running+positioning=election.

I roughly assess these factors at about the time the candidate began to be seriously considered for the office, particularly for name recognition and money raising capacity. Cause is reason for running or rationale for candidacy, with my own admiring or unflattering perceptions. Positioning is simply my sense of whether the candidate presented as an outsider or an insider.

So below I’ll employ that formula for the 2006 gubernatorial election, 2010 special election for the senate, and 2012 senate election


Candidate Name Rec. Money Cause Positioning
Healey High High My turn Insider
Reilly High High My turn Insider
Gabrieli Low High My turn Insider
Patrick Low Low Progressive values Outsider



Candidate Name Rec. Money Cause Positioning
Pagliuca Low High See “Money” Outsider
Khazei Low Low Civic responsibility Outsider
Capuano Moderate High My turn Insider
Coakley High High My turn Insider
Brown Low Low Kill Obamacare Outsider



Candidate Name Rec. Money Cause Positioning
Brown High High Bipartisan Insider
Warren Low High Financial regulation Outsider


Patrick, Brown, and Warren all started with low name recognition and no money. Brown began with serious money problems and became awash in money when it looked like he had a good chance in 2010 and thereafter; Patrick had a similar experience (but has never been a fund raising force of nature), Warren always had good prospects for fund raising ability.

None of the high name recognition My turn or Insider candidates had any luck.

But in 2006 Patrick went throughout the state and ignited the hopes of progressive Democrats. In 2010 Brown identified himself as the forty-first and killing vote against Obamacare. In 2012 Warren was the candidate of the middle class against the pounding they were taking from Wall Street. They all were perceived as outsiders, even Warren, who had big money and Democratic establishment support. Khazei was a Cause/Outsider candidate but the special election didn’t give him the time to accomplish what Patrick had in 2006. Warren also used time to build a superb organization inspired by her Cause. Brown had a Cause in 2010 but did not have a Cause in 2012. Reaching across the aisle and being bipartisan isn’t a Cause; it might get you a gold star in first grade recess though.

I’ll probably be drummed out of the American Political Science Association for violating the precepts of scientific inquiry here. There are only three cases, the terminology is vague, and the “data” is based on my own subjective perceptions. So don’t rely on any of this.

But if you want to think about it as you handicap the next senate and gubernatorial fields, have fun.




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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