Here’s what I don’t understand. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry have tied up the two Massachusetts Senate seats for years. I would think that there are many highly qualified Democrats in the state who didn’t get a shot at such a spot until now. How did the Democrats wind up with as weak a candidate as Martha Coakley?
Coakley’s campaign sounds a lot like Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign based upon inevitability and entitlement. That is not going to work, especially when Scott Brown is running as a moderate Republican. As The Christian Science Monitor points out, Massachusetts is not so Democratic that a moderate Republican can’t bring out the vote, especially with the amount of anti-incumbent sentiment at present:
…Massachusetts voters also gave Republicans the key to the governors’ office for 16 straight years, from 1990 to 2006.
Moreover, Senate races have historically been tight when the Republican candidate is moderate enough to appeal to centrist voters. Sen. John Kerry had close races against Ray Shamie in 1984, Jim Rappaport in 1990, and Bill Weld in 1996 – all of whom earned at least 40 percent of the vote.
Senator Kennedy saw his toughest challenge in 1994 against Mitt Romney, who would later be Massachusetts’ governor and an unsuccessful candidate for president. While Mr. Romney eventually shifted further to the right during his 2008 presidential bid, Massachusetts voters considered him a moderate Republican in his statewide campaigns. In fact, until 1993, Romney was registered as an independent.
For Coakley and Brown, it’s the state’s independents who will likely determine the outcome of the race.
“The majority of registered voters now are independents,” says David Paleologos, director of the Political Research Center at Suffolk University in Boston, which conducted Thursday’s poll. “Despite the fact that they are people who say … they don’t want to be tied to one party, independents have emerged as the political party in Massachusetts now. It’s really about the independent voter.”
Making matters worse, Coakley has committed a number of gaffes. Health care might fall in the Senate because of a dumb baseball comment–Coakley calling former Red Sox pitcher and Brown supporter Curt Schilling a Yankee fan. Even worse, she has resorted to the type of tactics which we see far more from Republicans, but which are not exclusive to them. For some reason Republicans do far better than Democrats in bringing out the vote by distorting the record of their opponent, as Coakley did in a recent ad and flier.
The race will be decided by independents, and Brown has positioned himself much better than Coakley to pick up their votes. He is also better able to run as a moderate as the far right has appeared to have learned their lesson in New York’s special election. In New York the far right condemned Dede Scozzafava as if she was on the far left and allowed the Democrats to win the seat. Even though Brown is more liberal than Scozzafava we are not hearing any complaints that he is a RINO at the moment.
The reason why Republicans are willing to accept a moderate in Massachusetts is that he could be the 41st vote to stop a health care reform bill. If not for these dynamics Republicans from out of state would not be giving Brown so much assistance, and I’m not sure that many Democrats would really mind seeing Coakley going down to defeat.
At the moment the race is too close to call based upon the polls. If Brown does win there are a few possible outcomes with regards to health care reform:
The House could very quickly pass the Senate version unchanged allowing this to be sent to President Obama for his signature without giving the Republicans a chance to filibuster a bill coming out of reconciliation. The problems here are that many House liberals would not accept the Senate bill, and the Senate bill should not be passed as it is.
If the race is close the Democrats might try to delay seating Brown should he win. Think back to Al Franken’s election.
Democrats might try to come up with even more compromises to try to get Olympia Snowe’s vote. This could cost them even more votes from House Democrats.
They might try to pass health care reform with a simple majority by using budget reconciliation, but this would require massive changes to the bill as only items affecting the budget can be passed in this manner.
These choices do not look good, making it very possible that it could be the loss of Ted Kennedy’s seat which results in the blockage of health care reform.