Best of: Your Next Senator Will Be . . .

Unfortunately Prof. Cunningham is ill and will not be doing an original post today. He leaves us with this prior rumination on predicting who will succeed John Kerry. On Tuesday he will return to discuss the known-knowns, known-unknowns, and unknown-unknowns in the race to succeed Senator Kerry.

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.

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