How will Obama’s “scandals” impact the MA Senate race?

While others speculate about the impact of the recent spate of “scandals” bedeviling the Obama Administration on the 2014 midterm elections, we get to talk about some much more immediate potential electoral fallout. With a Special US Senate race just 43 days away in Massachusetts, how will these “scandals” impact the Markey-Gomez race? The imminence of Election Day in the Bay State also insulates us (a bit) from the righteous indignation of those who see political speculation as particularly offensive at this time when we should be focused on “substantive” issues of governance.

One of the reasons that Gabriel Gomez’s chances of beating Ed Markey are so slim is that the national political narrative is very unlikely to provide Gomez with enough positive energy to increase Republican/conservative turnout AND negative energy to depress Democratic/progressive turnout. In January of 2010, that is exactly what the national narrative provided for Scott Brown.

However, over the last couple of weeks the Obama administration has been besieged by “scandals.” The right wingers’ determination to wring something useful out of “Benghazi-gate” and the apparent profiling of conservative groups by the IRS, along with the latest news that the Obama Justice Department has been spying on reporters, should be useful to the Gomez campaign. Unfortunately for Gomez, it will be very difficult for him to exploit these events effectively. One of the downsides of not being a “professional politician” is that Gomez isn’t particularly good at exploiting political opportunities.

The national Republicans’ efforts to create an impeachable offense from the ruins of the Benghazi consulate are likely to be poisonous to Mr. Gomez, whose association with a right wing extremist group that tried to “swiftboat” the president after the killing of Bin Laden has already given Democrats ammunition in their efforts to tie him to right wing extremism and dirty politics. Being associated with the Washington Republicans pushing the Benghazi story would only add to Gomez’s image problems.

But what about the IRS scandal and the Justice Department’s spying on reporters? Both of these “scandals” should be useful to Gomez, but if he tries to exploit them before any Democratic pols are implicated, he runs the risk of looking like another mudslinging professional pol. On the other hand, with Election Day only 43 day away, will there be time to exploit these events if and when Democratic elected officials are implicated?

I would advise Gomez to explicitly separate the Benghazi story from the IRS and DOJ “scandals.” He should make a point of condemning the “politics of personal destruction” behind the Benghazi-Gate efforts, while decrying the “culture of corruption” created by over-reliance on government and reflecting on the “serious questions” that exist regarding the conduct of the IRS and DOJ. Without accusing the president or Mr. Markey of anything specific, other than of course a “failure of leadership,” Gomez should lament the inability of Americans to trust the federal government and reassert the need for more trustworthy non-politicians in Washington.

While none of these “scandals” are going to do much to dampen Democratic turnout, they could be used to increase Republican enthusiasm. With polls presently showing that these “scandals” are not getting any traction with voters, they should, at least, give Gomez something to talk about that will help him to deflect public and media attention away from policy issues and his sagging poll numbers.

What Gomez really needs is another credible poll that puts him within striking distance of Markey. At present, Gomez’s prospects are so dim that his campaign has been forced to solicit donations by trumpeting an “internal” poll that they claim shows a close race. These Washington “scandals” may not amount to much, but from Gomez’s perspective, “beggars can’t be choosers.”

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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