Little things DO NOT mean a lot!

In my last post about the upcoming special election for John Kerry’s US Senate seat, I hoped aloud (so to speak) that we would not be told ad nauseam that “little things mean a lot.” Commentary and stories about every little personal characteristic, statement, or action on the campaign trail are truly for entertainment purposes only. Unless somebody pulls a “Todd Akin” these things will not impact the outcome of this election.

Obviously, the closest thing we’ll have in this political “spring training” to a competitive election is the Democratic primary. Though my sense is that Ed Markey’s advantages will be enough to fend off Lynch’s challenge, I can’t help but hope for a truly competitive contest. The important thing to note here is that the identity of the Democratic nominee in this race will not matter to either the outcome of the general election or the fate of Democratic Party legislative priorities in the US Senate.

Stephen Lynch’s candidacy fascinates me. Under the right conditions, Lynch would be an outstanding Democratic nominee for US Senate. The right conditions would be an election in which the Republican nominee had a realistic chance of being elected. Needless to say, that’s not the case in 2013. As it is, Lynch’s is a perfect example of how much more important party labels are than personal profiles.

The progressive Democrats lining up behind Markey who are feverishly attacking Lynch as a D.I.N.O. or worse are making a mountain out of a mole hill. Lynch’s high profile defections from the party line as a member of the House were no more threatening to the party’s legislative efforts than were Scott Brown’s occasional defections from his Republican leadership during his brief stay in the Senate. If Stephen Lynch manages to pull out this primary race against Markey, he will NOT be a threat to the Party’s efforts to advance a progressive agenda in the US Senate.

Lynch’s hard scrabble roots make him MORE aware of the importance of being a team player, not less. He, no less than Markey, can be counted on to toe the party line when necessary. In fact, it is possible that Lynch would be a better compliment to Elizabeth Warren than Markey. Warren’s economic populism and Lynch’s conservative cultural populism could be a very potent one, two punch, especially since the Party can count on Lynch’s vote whenever it is needed.

A lot of politically attentive voters on both sides remain unwilling or incapable of understanding how much more important the rules and norms of the office (party membership in the US Senate, in this case) are than the identities of the candidates in determining policy outcomes. In this primary contest, the Democrats have two very different candidates, both of whom will effectively promote and protect the party’s interests in the US Senate. Their differences are ultimately stylistic and personal. Their policy differences are, in effect, merely rhetorical.

To all my Democratic friends who are becoming intensely involved in this primary fight, my advice is this: enjoy to battle, fight hard but fair, and remember that this is an intramural scrimmage, the outcome of which will NOT have a measurable impact on the fate of the party’s legislative agenda in the US Senate.

To all my culturally conservative friends I’d say join the battle on behalf of Lynch, but don’t expect him to actually vote against the progressives if elected, unless his vote doesn’t matter.

To my conservative friends who supported Scott Brown It’s a bit harder to know what to advise them. Supporting Lynch would provide a bit of psychic satisfaction, but not much else. Interestingly, if you supported Brown because he was a moderate, then you could support Lynch for the same reason, though in reality the moderation of Brown and Lynch is purely rhetorical since both men have been faithful partisans when their votes were needed.

The bottom line is that Massachusetts is the most liberal state in America and the results of this special election will not alter that reality.

About Jerold Duquette

Jerold Duquette is an associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University. He is the author of Regulating the National Pastime: Baseball and Antitrust and has published articles and book chapters on campaign finance reform, political parties, Massachusetts politics and political culture, public opinion, and political socialization. Professor Duquette lives in Longmeadow, MA with his wife and four children.
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