It would appear that Scott Brown has already won the phantom special election of 2013. In today’s Globe, Robert Kuttner writes that should John Kerry go to Foggy Bottom, “Scott Brown would likely run, and win.”
Hmmm. Perhaps I’ve been at the Eggnog too much (and too early) but I have very serious doubts.
Of course the White House wants to prevent a GOP takeover of the Senate in 2014, as Kuttner notes, and making John Kerry’s safe seat less than safe might not help. But the White House is more savvy than this recent commentary about a resurgent Brown. If Senator Kerry doesn’t get the appointment, it has more to do with the President’s relationship with Susan Rice than the remote prospect that Scott Brown comes roaring back to political life.
Consider the facts:
- Brown won in a special election in January 2010 having faced a poorly run Democratic campaign in a year of Democratic demoralization, low voter turnout, and tea party uprising. Which one of these factors are going to be present should there be a spring 2013 special election in Massachusetts? Does anyone seriously believe that Democrats in Massachusetts will again take a long nap during another special election featuring Scott Brown? That organization is just idling at the moment. Expect it to kick into high gear should John Kerry get the call from the President.
- Brown won the low turnout 2010 special election by 5 points. He lost to a resurgent Democratic party and a Senate nominee who had never before run for office by 8 points.
- He is the leading Republican for any and all upcoming elections because the GOP here has no farm team. They only have their veterans –Brown, Weld, Baker, all of whom have lost in their most recent attempts at statewide office. At the moment all the GOP has is Brown. That’s not an indication of strength. Given their failure to mobilize voters here to support their candidates at just about any level in 2012, why would the Massachusetts GOP be able to do so next spring?
Consider also the Brown tactics of 2012. Faced with the reality in the fall that Warren was likely to win, the Brown team continued to pursue a strategy that only increased his negatives. Focusing on her heritage and participation in complicated lawsuits did nothing to buttress Brown’s claim to be an independent voice in the Senate. They did, however, negatively impact his personal standing.
Brown might have lost and emerged the most popular person in Massachusetts politics, a titan just waiting for the next race. But his campaign helped him lose ugly. The memory of the Brown camp’s tactics will not be soon forgotten by those voters who turned out in high numbers to support Warren and Democratic candidates down ballot, all of whom won by impressive margins. The Brown brand took a serious hit and it may take more than a few months to reestablish itself as a force in the state.
Consider also that issues that worked against Brown in 2012 have not gone away. The GOP is still the party with a national platform that many Massachusetts voters find extreme. Their former Governor lost the state by 23 points. It’s worth reading that line again.
Brown, recognizing the handicap of his own party early on, campaigned as a person who bucks the party and encouraged his fellow citizens to vote the person and not the party. But he was never able to connect his self-vaunted independence to any issue or set of issues that voters here are passionate about. Voters don’t care about bipartisanship or independence in a vacuum. The bipartisanship must be tied to something that resonates loudly and moves voters.
Despite his claims to bipartisanship, the national GOP brand will continue to work against Brown and Massachusetts Republicans competing for federal offices in the short term and very likely in the long term as well.
Finally, the Governor has made it clear that should he get the opportunity to appoint an interim Senator, he may not hold that person to a commitment not to run in the general election. The Interim Senator will bring to the general election high name recognition, the ability to fundraise fast and furious, and an organization that knows how to motivate and dispatch its volunteers.
Party leaders may not be able to prevent a primary challenge to the as yet unnamed Interim, but I have my doubts. Witness the ability of state and DC Democrats and the Warren campaign to ensure that no senior Democrat was able to stay in striking range of her last year. My guess is that Senator Interim will benefit from a few well placed phone calls from the Governor and from the White House in an attempt to make sure the field is clear.
The special election will immediately be followed by a general election in 2014 and it may just be that Brown holds his fire until then, putting more space between his runs, touring the state in an effort to rebuild his brand, and hoping that the climate turns against the Democrats as it had in early 2010.
And a statewide race for a state office is much more likely to be fruitful for Brown for he will not have to face the headwinds of an unpopular DC party. The soon to be former Senator does not want to be known in Massachusetts history as the Special Election Senator, winning two special elections in a row only to lose in attempts to win a 6 year term.
Brown is a weakened force at the moment who may draw strength in future but all of this commentary about the inevitability of a Brown win next spring as if he didn’t just suffer a very serious rebuke seems to me to be a bit off the mark.