Massachusetts and Scott Brown

As I was preparing an article on some upcoming Senate races in 2014, I was going to write that former Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts should sit this special election cycle out and possibly concentrate on the full six year term in 2014. In the special election, two Democratic heavyweights in Massachusetts politics will fight it out to see who fills out that term of the seat being vacated by Kerry. Both Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch, both currently Democratic Congressmen, will be in the Democratic primary with the winner taking on some Republican who will not be Scott Brown. The decision by Brown not to run is a good one for several reasons.

First, like the last time, if elected, it would not be for a full six years. Brown replaced Kennedy in the Senate to fulfill Kennedy’s term after his death. The 2012 loss to Elizabeth Warren was for the full six year term. Although he polled close to Warren throughout the campaign, that momentum was lost late in the race and Warren cruised to victory. We can dissect the Brown loss, but it essentially boils down to the fact that Massachusetts is, at heart, a liberal state. While they may elect a Republican Governor now and then and even a Republican Senator to replace, in Massachusetts lore, an iconic Democratic Senator in Ted Kennedy, those victories are the exception to the norm recently, and generally decided on a certain situation at the time. Brown’s victory in the special election was predicated upon two factors. First, his opponent, Martha Coakley, took the Democratic status of the seat for granted. While she was lauding it as “Kennedy’s seat,” and therefore worthy of only a Democrat, Brown was greeting potential voters in front of Fenway Park which, quite frankly, is more iconic than Ted Kennedy. Secondly, Obamacare was a HUGE issue at the time and Brown’s victory denied the then-Democratic controlled Senate the opportunity to pass it without resorting to the strategy they ultimately had to resort to- the budget reconciliation process. In 2013, Obamacare remains an issue, but the battle over its passage is moot. Hence, a strong reason to vote for Brown this time around in a special election is removed from the calculation.

Second, Scott Brown’s ascendancy caught the Democratic Party- both national and that in the Bay State- off guard. The element of surprise is now lost. In the run up to this election, the Democratic Party in Massachusetts and nationally feared most a Brown candidacy. With that threat now removed, they have to reformulate their attack against an unknown (at this point) opponent. For example, with the specter of Newtown in neighboring Connecticut still fresh on the minds of a liberal population that supports gun control, the Democrats were already portraying Brown as beholden to the gun lobby. Also, the very criticisms of him from the Warren campaign are too fresh in the minds of Massachusetts voters.

Third, the Democratic primary will allow the Republican Party to gauge the strength of the liberal faction of the Democratic Party to win in Massachusetts. On the Democratic side, there will be a primary battle between Ed Markey who is perhaps one of the most liberal members of the House. He will face fellow Congressman Stephen Lynch who is relatively moderate by Massachusetts Democratic Party standards (although still liberal). Assume Markey emerges from that primary. That would infer that the Warren brand of Massachusetts liberalism is still prevailing in Massachusetts’ electorate, or at least among Democrats in that state who enjoy a huge margin of membership over Republicans. However, if Lynch should emerge the victor, then it may infer a moderation within the Massachusetts electorate. In effect, Brown can, if he is calculating, use this election as a laboratory exercise to gauge the Massachusetts electorate for a 2014 run for the full six-year term. If Lynch emerges, then it would be relatively moderate Democrat versus clearly moderate Republican (Brown) in 2014.

Fourth, this would have been Brown’s fourth statewide campaign in as many years if he decided to run in the special election in 2013. Sitting out a year, building up a resume by keeping his name in the news and developing and improving his fundraising network is an intelligent move. Most likely, Scott Brown is not going away in Massachusetts. Incidentally and as an aside, Brown maintains a residence in neighboring New Hampshire. Some have speculated that he may use that as an opportunity to run against Jeanne Shaheen for her Senate seat also up for grabs in 2014. Of course, people like John Sununu and Frank Guinta may have something to say about that carpetbagging strategy. Regardless, four runs for the Senate in as many years is taxing and Brown is smart to sit this one out.

Fifth, if not Brown for the Republican Party, then who? It really would not matter much at this point. In preliminary polling, Brown held a slight edge over Markey or Lynch in a general special election. Brown was the only Republican who led in any hypothetical polling, although it was a close “lead.” When the special election is held, the most likely winner would be the Democrat anyway, just as what happened in the most recent 2012 election that saw Warren sent to the Senate. A Brown loss too close on the heels of his loss to Warren could have potentially ended his promising political career prematurely. So, by staying on the bench, he reserves himself. You do not put in your saved games leader to pitch the ninth inning if you are losing by two runs, or even tied.

Sixth, the answer to the above question is to put in a promising rising star within the Republican Party in Massachusetts who will use the opportunity to run against either Markey or Lynch for (1) Republican publicity purposes and (2) to enhance their name in Massachusetts, especially if they run a close, good campaign. Along the way, they could ding the eventual Democratic candidate who will likely seek the full term in 2014 and have a leg up within the Democratic Party. That is, the Republicans in Massachusetts need to send in a candidate who will be an underdog, but that will inflict some blows while avoiding too many themselves and soften up the Democrat for 2014. That person is Richard Tisei. In 2012, he challenged Democratic incumbent John Tierney in the state’s Sixth Congressional District. He lost by only 3,500 votes in over over 374,000 votes cast in that race. Clearly, he can run a competitive campaign in his district. He also has legislative experience to fall back on having served six years in the state House and ten in the state senate. Most importantly, he takes the three most divisive social issues off the table: same sex marriage (he supports it), abortion (he is pro-choice), and gun control (he supports sensible restrictions). With regards to the first issue, Tisei is also openly gay thus using alleged Republican aversion to gays could not be an issue. How can you assert the GOP has this aversion to gays when one is running? It should be remembered that Tisei would enter this race with basically nothing to lose. If he loses the race, he returns to his real estate business and state/local politics. If he should somehow surprisingly win, then all the better because he then holds the seat either for himself in 2014, or for a Scott Brown candidacy. Either way, Tisei’s job is to inflict damage on the ultimate Democratic candidate and soften them up for a full six year term campaign in 2014.

In the end, from a political standpoint, Brown’s decision to forego a run for Senate in this year’s special election is a smart, shrewd move. This creates an opportunity for him to gauge electoral political trends in Massachusetts and regroup ideologically and monetarily. There are more downsides in 2013 in a Brown candidacy than there are upsides in a Brown 2014 candidacy.