I have spent much of the last year and a half trying to explain that candidates and campaigns are not the primary drivers of US Senate elections in Massachusetts. As the Race for the Democratic nomination gets started I feel compelled to clarify that I was referring to election contests, not party nominating contests, which are settled in primary elections.
The contest between progressive Democrat, Ed Markey, and not-so-progressive Democrat, Stephen Lynch, may very well turn on the identities, character, and campaign performances of the candidates. The larger partisan political and institutional context of the 2013 race for John Kerry’s US Senate seat will not play as much of a role in the Democratic Party’s choice of its nominee as it will in the general election.
Given each man’s profile and resume, the Markey-Lynch race could have been a contest between the party establishment and the progressive wing of the party. But It won’t, because the party establishment and the progressive wing of the party have already lined up behind Ed Markey. The age-old antagonism between progressive policy purists and establishment types who worry more about winning office than winning policy debates has been pushed aside, possibly in part because this intraparty division played a role in electing Republican Scott Brown in 2010.
We are left with a curious contest in which the party establishment and the party’s progressives will be united against what many call the “Reagan Democrat” faction, which thanks to the rules for voting in state party primaries, could include unenrolled voters. For all intents and purposes, Stephen Lynch is a D.I.N.O, or Democrat in name only. If Lynch prevails in this primary contest, what will that tell us about the state of the Massachusetts electorate? How would such an outcome impact our after action accessment of the so-called “Scott Brown Era?”
Markey has to be the favorite in the race, but there does seem to be a conceivable road to victory for Lynch. If Lynch were able to rally unenrolled and Democratic voters who supported Scott Brown, and get very productive support from the traditional Democratic groups that are supporting him, like the Carpenters Union for example, he could make it a race.
The fact that no Republican heavy weights will be running in the general election could also help Lynch, especially if none of the Republican B-Teamers presently trying to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot is able to mount a credible campaign. In that case, Lynch may be able to adopt a posture similar to that of Joe Lieberman in 2006, when the Connecticut Senator rode to re-election with the de facto support of the state’s Republican establishment, who greatly preferred the moderate Lieberman to both the progressive Democrat and their own hapless nominee in that race.