The View from the NEPSA Annual Meeting

This weekend, I will deliver my annual report on the state of Massachusetts politics to the New England Politics Roundtable at the New England Political Science Association’s annual meeting. For a comprehensive reconsideration of the state of Massachusetts politics last year at this time, you can (re)read my New England Journal of Political Science piece from last spring here.

Last spring, we were hip deep in another US Senate “special” election that would pit a charismatic moderate Republican against a liberal Democratic congressman. The media coverage of the contest between Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez, while not as unrealistic as the coverage of the Brown/Warren race, was still not very realistic with regard to Gomez’s prospects for victory in the June 25th match up. I’m happy to report that as we move closer to Senator Markey’s first re-election campaign there is no hint that the media intends to pretend that Markey’s race will be competitive. While I’d like to think this realism is a product of careful attention to our work here at Masspoliticsprofs, I’m inclined to attribute this analytical maturation to the fact that we will have a competitive governor’s race this fall that will more than satisfy the need for a horse race.

The lesson of Gomez’s defeat last June was, of course, that Massachusetts will not send a Republican to the US Senate as long as doing so might tip the partisan scales toward Republicans on Capitol Hill. Not surprisingly, there were some stalwart Republican operatives and pundits who refused to accept this reality. Republican operative Curt Anderson wrote, “Let’s be clear, this was a winnable race. The Democrat candidate, Congressman Ed Markey, ran a lackluster campaign that inspired no one. His 37 years in Congress made him the poster boy for term limits, he has 271 votes to increase taxes, he barely showed up on the trail, and he is to the left of the average voter in Massachusetts. In short, he was a worse candidate than even Martha Coakley.”

This quotation from Anderson wonderfully encapsulates much of what Republicans and reporters got wrong about the “Scott Brown Era” in Bay State politics. Brown didn’t win in 2010 based on the strength of his campaign or the weakness of Coakley’s and no greater amount of money or momentum could have propelled Gabe Gomez past Ed Markey last summer. The best evidence for this would surface some eight months later when Scott Brown himself made it clear that he understood this reality by moving his political circus north to New Hampshire, where the partisan environment is considerably less hostile to Republican senate candidates.

While Scott Brown tries to rekindle the magic of 2010 by reviving his aw shucks, pickup driving, anti-Obamacare campaign in the Granite State, the Mass GOP has returned to its very familiar posture of focusing entirely on electing a Republican governor by arguing against the dangers of “one party rule on Beacon Hill.” Though they effectively nominated someone to face Ed Markey this fall at their recent state convention, as well as candidates for the other constitutional offices, you’ll need to do a google search to find out anything about these folks, whose acceptance speeches at the Mass GOP conclave were barely audible over the din of the crowd.

The only remaining element of the so-called “Scott Brown Era” in Massachusetts politics is the MassGOP Chair herself, Kirsten Hughes, whose installation represents Brown’s only accomplishment that will outlive his political career in the Bay State. Though she had a difficult time presiding over the as yet not completely finished business of her party’s convention, Hughes does appear to be holding her own in efforts to bring the party into the 21st Century with regard to voter mobilization and candidate networking technology and practices.

As for the present state of play, so to speak, I will report to the assembled political scientists in Woodstock, VT on Saturday that the organizational and party activist phase of the 2014 governor’s race is in full bloom, and that the pollsters and media pundits are warming up for what should be a competitive Democratic primary and a competitive general election in the race for the corner office. The Affordable Care Act appears to be on the rhetorical menu for both the Republican gubernatorial nominee and the one Republican running for the US House who’s been given any chance of victory in the fall. Both candidates, interestingly, are back for their second try. Charlie Baker and Richard Tisei are both trying to leverage anxiety about “Obamacare” into a winning message, though a spate of good news for the fledgling law may require some rhetorical fine tuning by the GOP aspirants.

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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