Mass. Dems and GOP: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Two days after the conclusion of the Ed Markey-Gabriel Gomez race the Globe ran side-to-side stories on the Democrats campaigning for the Markey seat and the ritual post-election wake at Republican HQ. So let’s look at the Democratic race and sit Shiva for the Republicans.  

In the special election the Globe reported that likely candidates are state Senators Will Brownsberger, Katherine Clark, and Karen Spilka, Representative Carl Sciortino, and Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian. What interested me in the Democratic story was how the candidates are trying to assure activists of their party fealty and distinguish themselves from each other. The candidates are all likely to imitate Usain Bolt in a sprint to the left, but Sciortino insists he will get there first. He spoke about abortion rights, workers rights and “equality for women and LGBT people.” Spilka spoke about her experience in conflict resolution. Brownsberger stresses the economy, environment, and poverty issues. Clark is speaking up for families, the middle class, and health care access for women.

My thoughts turned back to the last Suffolk University poll of the special election that indicated that the most important issue to voters was jobs/economy, with 40%; no other issue broke into double figures. But these are all high quality experienced candidates unlike say, Gabriel Gomez. They know that the post-materialist activist base of their party (money givers, volunteers) cares a lot about abortion and contraception, LGBT concerns, the environment.

I thought Senator Brownsberger had perhaps the most interesting response that he would emphasize poverty during his campaign. That distinguished him. Poverty gets distressingly little attention, especially compared to an infinitesimally tiny percentage of DTA spending that goes to dead recipients.

In the senate special moneyed Democratic elites in Washington selected our next senator and by some quirk of the sort-of democratic process forwarded his name to be ratified by Massachusetts voters. Perhaps it is the different dynamic between the branches but this Democratic house field is high quality and competitive. We are not having a candidate imposed on us. Maybe democracy still has a chance.

As for the Republicans, the Globe reports some of their leading minds think it is time to “rethink the brand.” Like from Scott to Charmin?  The year 2010 in which Scott Brown won his senate seat and the GOP doubled its numbers in the house looks more and more like a wild deviation. There seems to be a corrective regression to the mean going on, so those recent Republican house members had best watch out.

Whither Gabriel Gomez? Sorry to rain on the parade of the fan base, but Gomez was a terrible candidate. Let me emphasize that, terrible. Unlike his Republican primary opponents Dan Winslow and Michael Sullivan, Gomez never stood for anything. He was just another rich guy who woke up one morning and thought to himself, “I know! I think I’ll be a senator!”

Still, Gomez came within ten points of the Democrats Chosen One, who brought in President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and former President Bill Clinton. The Democrats vastly outspent Gomez, laughably so in outside special interest spending.

Could Scott Brown have won? Maybe not but he would have been a high quality candidate and he’d have been competitive in the money race.

About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts. Professor Cunningham is a regular contributor to the online magazine CommonwealthMagazine.org. He is a former assistant district attorney and assistant attorney general in Massachusetts. Professor Cunningham is a lifelong resident of Massachusetts. He earned his BA at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, his JD at New England School of Law, and PhD at Boston College. He lives in Cambridge with his wife and two children.
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