Around the U.S. in 50 Days: Massachusetts

In 2010, Massachusetts sort of broke the mold as far as the midterm GOP wave went. The special election to fill the seat held by the deceased Ted Kennedy was filled by Scott Brown, a relatively unknown state senator who seemingly came from nowhere to defeat his Democratic rival, Martha Coakley. at the time, it was described as an “earthquake” in politics. However, the Democrats failed to read the handwriting on the wall. They had a lost a gubernatorial contest in Virginia which was understandable. But, when Chris Christie was elected in New Jersey- a deeply blue state- all bets were off. Before we get into the Senate race, it is best to look at the presidential election first.

In 2008, Obama won the state with 60% of the vote as McCain failed to carry a single county. Like other New England states, his approval rating remains above the 50% level in early 2012, bucking the national trend. However, another thing happened- the census. As a result of sluggish population growth, the state lost a House seat. Still, Obama should easily win their 11 electoral votes.

In the Senate race, Brown seeks reelection to a full 6-year term. In the special election, a series of events led to his victory. First, there was the rising GOP tide against not necessarily Democrats, but against incumbents in general and after their gains in 2006 and 2008, there were simply more Democrats to take one’s anger out on. Second, Martha Coakley took her election victory as a given. After all, this was the seat of the iconic Ted Kennedy. Brown had perhaps one of the best lines of the campaign when he asserted it was the “people’s seat,” not “Ted Kennedy’s seat.” Third, the nation as a whole was becoming disgusted with the process over enactment of Obamacare and the political payoffs, arm twisting, and back room dealings. Fourth, Coakley’s campaign was essentially one where she sat back and did nothing while Brown traveled the state meeting, greeting, schmoozing and kissing babies while posing for photo ops outside Fenway Park. When polls showed him closing in, she allowed DC operatives to step in and they engaged in attack ads bringing up outlandish and well-settled non-issues from Brown’s past that, ironically, are being brought up again in 2012. By that point, not even appearances by the the messiah Obama could help her.

Things will be different this time around. First, health care reform may not be a dominant issue depending on how the Supreme Court rules this term. Instead, the economy- especially jobs- will be the dominant issue. Second, there is no way Democrats will be caught with their pants down this time. Nothing will be left to chance. Third, Elizabeth Ann Warren, the presumptive Democratic nominee, enters this race well known. Fourth, as the 2010 midterm elections proved, Massachusetts bucked the national trend by sending all ten Democratic incumbent representatives back to the House and they elected a Democratic Governor. They also pretty much swept every other major statewide office.

Regarding Scott Brown in general, it would be a serious mistake to characterize him as “conservative.” One statistical study of his votes in the state senate certainly placed him to the right of that body in general. But, when compared to Republicans nationally in state legislatures, he could rightfully be characterized as a “moderate.” To some people out there reading this, that would make him a RINO. I find it interesting that Scott Brown is not the target of certain factions in the GOP, but like-minded Senators, like Lugar and Snowe, are targets. To me, that illustrates the hypocrisy of those who use the RINO label without compunction.

There is no doubt that Warren will run a campaign that appeals to the well-established liberal base in Massachusetts. Already we are hearing inklings of Warren being the great savior and champion of the middle class workers and unions. Already we are hearing the rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street people and her casting herself as the champion of the 99%, the lone soldier against the 1%. Luckily, there are fact checkers out there. For example, from her many speaking engagements and consultations, government appointments, and teaching positions, her income places her among the lower end of the 1%. Her resume may be full, but it is mainly academic and does Washington really need more egg headed academics? There is a very good reason she was blocked from a government post. Her list of teaching positions and academic writings is impressively long, but it establishes a record and it will be a record difficult to distance oneself from. In effect, her philosophy borders on one of class warfare. What troubles me is that the state is so liberal, it will not make that much of a difference. What troubles me is that inevitable influx of money will be used as proof positive of Warren’s rantings, the wagons will circle, and people will not give Brown a fair look.

To be sure, Democrats feel that Scott Brown is the most vulnerable Republican up for reelection this year. The only other place where they stand half a chance is in Arizona. Thus, it becomes important that the GOP defends this seat at all costs- and it WILL be an expensive race. To do that, Republicans will have to bite the bullet and support others like Snowe and Lugar. If they lose the Massachusetts race, it would not necessarily be the end of the world in attempting to win the Senate, but would make it a lot harder, almost dictating a victory in two of the following three states: New Jersey, Virginia and Florida. None of these options are a given at this time. I give an advantage to Brown at this time. Incumbency does have advantages. The worst thing would be for conservative activists trying to force Brown to tack to the right. To prevail, he has to and he has staked out a satisfactory moderate stance and enough independence from the GOP orthodoxy to eke out a victory.

In the census, they lost a House seat dropping them to nine. Since the delegation was 10-0 Democratic, they stand to lose a seat. However, redistricting will not benefit the GOP in any district. In the nine counties where Obama exceeded 60% of the vote, they saw an average population growth of 3.3%. In the five counties where he won less than 60% of the vote, they saw a smaller population increase of 2.8%. This goes against trends in other states and indicates the Democrats will sweep again. Two incumbents did decide to retire- Barney Frank and John Olver. Olver’s retirement set into a motion a redistricting plan that allowed the merger of the 1st and 2nd districts in the western part of the state. Meanwhile, Frank’s district was made more reasonable. Put another way, it is less gerrymandered and the main reason he is retiring.

With redistricting out of the way, match ups are now more clear. Richard Neal, formerly of the 2nd, will run in the new 1st which became possible when Olver announced his retirement. Neal has been reaching out to new territory within his district. His biggest opposition may come in a primary from Andrea Nucifero, Jr. and Bill Shein, both of whom are picking up on the 1% nonsense. Jim McGovern is safe in the 2nd and Niki Tsongas in the 3rd.

The Fifth is safely Ed Markey’s as he will likely face 2010 challenger Gerry Dembrowski. A potential incumbent versus incumbent primary was avoided between Stephen Lynch and William Keating when Keating, who owns a home on Cape Cod, decided to run in the new 9th District. Hence, the 8th will go to Lynch. The 6th District GOP primary will feature Tea Party activist Bill Hudak going up against 2010 Lt. Governor nominee Richard Tisei, with the winner going on to lose to John Tierney.

The 7th now becomes the state’s first minority majority district and will pit Mike capuano, thought to be a Senate candidate, against Karla Romero. The goal of this move is to increase the possibility that somewhere down the line, a minority candidate will win election…but not this year. As stated earlier, Keating moves to the 9th and will likely win there.

Finally, there is the reconfigured 4th being vacated by Barney Frank. Here a crowded Democratic primary field will vie with the final choice likely coming down to Paul Heroux and Joseph Kennedy III. On the GOP side, it will Sean Bielat, who challenged Frank in 2010, or Elizabeth Childs. Missing is the name of perhaps a greater star quality than Kennedy in Boston- Curt Schilling.

In the end, I expect Obama to carry the state and lay claim to their 11 electoral votes and for Democrats to sweep all nine congressional races. Scott Brown will hang on to win a close, expensive race, but I do not believe we have heard the last of Warren. Because they lose a seat in the House- a Democrat- its a gain of one for the GOP.

Running totals thus far:
Obama with 192 electoral votes to 223 for the GOP;
Net gain of 2 Governors;
Net gain of 4 Senate seats;
Net loss of 7 House seats.

Next: Rhode Island and Connecticut