Reader N. Richard Greenfield files the following dispatch with the benefit of a week's perspective on the election victory of Scott Brown:
Massachusetts has always been in the thick of things politically, and last week's election harkened back to the original tea parties and sparks of rebellion at the country's birth. Along with the presidencies of the Adamses, John Kennedy and Calvin Coolidge, Massachusetts has also given the Democrats recent presidential candidates Michael Dukakis and John Kerry. This past week, the Bay State was at the political center of gravity again, deciding whether the United States is a one party or two-party government over the next 11 months.
In 2008, Massachusetts joined the rest of the country in rejecting the Bush presidency and using as its measure for president 'historic choice' rather than qualifications. Just what one would expect for the bluest of blue states.
Notwithstanding the election of Scott Brown, a blue state it still is. There are still 10 Democrats representing 10 congressional districts who haven't had a serous contest for years, decades in fact. Most elections for Congress are virtually uncontested, and even when they are open seats, their occupants are picked in the Democrat primary and not the general election.
The numbers in the state legislature bespeak one party, not two. Scott Brown was one of five Republican state senators out of a total of 40. Republicans have been endangered species on Beacon Hill for some time. Republican governors have been the manifestation of the voter's rejection of complete one party rule, but no GOP governor has been able to resist the temptation to go along with the majority and then get out of town as quickly as possible.
But now we have Scott Brown, who was the greatest of candidates, and if he's half as good a senator, he'll be terrific. But Massachusetts is still politically unchanged. It is still a one party state. It is still very much liberal left and politically correct. And, like most states of its political hue, it is just about broke and may soon be looking for a federal handout to survive.
The Republican in Mass., when on the ballot, always gets about 30% of the vote and the Democrat gets the rest. The anomaly of the Scott Brown election came about for a number of reasons, none more important than that it was a nationalized, one on one contest, unhindered by the local concerns that are in play when the ballot is full of Democrats and few Republicans. That this was a 'special' election to fill the mid term vacancy of the 'Kennedy seat' loomed large. What also made it very different and special is that that many Democrats just plain stayed home.
It is worth looking at the numbers and remembering something we often overlook, especially in Mass. where the voting patterns are pretty consistent from election to election: every election brings a different combination of voters to the ballot box. In Mass. the every-election norm is 4 parts Democrat, 5 parts Independent and 1 part Republican. To Brown's credit, he got all the R's, a good bunch of the I's, and some of the D's. He more than likely got all the votes that he could while his uninspiring opponent couldn't even drag out her base. Fewer D's voting gave a rare opportunity for a Republican to prevail. Because of the lack of real choice, it is usually many of the Republicans and Independents who lean Republican who stay home.
Using the example of the 10th Congressional District, which encompasses the South Shore and Cape Cod, turnout last week was about 20 points less than the last election. The pattern was that places that voted for McCain in '08 turned out almost as many votes for Brown this year as they did for McCain last. This while Obama towns and cities came in with a fraction of votes they provided for Obama in '08. In no small part this is because Martha Coakley was on the ballot all alone. There were no candidates over her to pump up the volume and get out their vote and no place holders below her on the ballot bringing out their friends and family to secure their place at the public trough. So it was a one on one shootout at the OK corral (and and independent Libertarian who picked up 1% of the vote) and the Democrats lost.
Scott Brown ran a great campaign, but he was allowed to run it the way he did because it was a 'special election'. Martha Coakley was disadvantaged by the normal pull of local issues and races and ran a meek one. He was able to run on national issues and she didn't even understand them, let alone run on them. An example of that is that much of the media she bought reinforced Brown's positions. In almost every ad she reminded voters that Brown would be the 41st vote against a health care bill that over 70% of Mass. voters disapproved of. Friendly fire anyone?
Looking to the future, there's another lesson in politics that pertains here. Once a person breaks a life long habit and changes the party he or she votes, it's easy to do it again. But it doesn't happen automatically. Not given adequate reason to cross over again, that one vote that was so out of character becomes an aberration. In a very few months, the Republican Party has to come alive, candidates have to emerge, resources have to materialize and reason has to be given to that crossover voter to stay with the party they are used to voting against. The elections of 2010, if the Republicans can rise to the challenge, will afford Mass. voters their next chance to change the coloration of their state from Blue to Brown.