Monday, January 18, 2010

What's At Stake In Massachusetts

From Richard Dunham at the San Francisco Chronicle's politics blog a tidy breakdown of what could be the fallout from tomorrow's election, averted or realized :

It's almost impossible to overstate the political significance of tomorrow's Massachusetts Senate election. Here are ten reasons why the election is so important nationally:

1. Massachusetts is one of the most Democratic states in the nation. It's the only state that voted for George McGovern over Richard Nixon in 1972 and it hasn't elected a Republican senator since 1972. Its entire congressional delegation is Democratic. A GOP win would shock the liberal Democratic establishment that dismissed the 2009 gubernatorial setbacks in Virginia and New Jersey as mere flukes.

2. Health-care reform is at stake. A victory for Scott Brown would deprive the Democrats of the 60 votes they need to push their brand of health-care reform through the Senate without any Republican support. That would be a huge defeat for President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. No way to spin that one.

3. Democrat-only legislative power would come to an end. If Senate Democrats were to lose in Massachusetts, they'd lose their tenuous 60-seat majority needed to push forward legislation without bipartisan support. That means that moderate Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine would instantly become two of the most powerful people on Capitol Hill. One way or another, the Obama agenda would have to be retooled or scaled back.

4. This is the "Kennedy" seat. For six decades, this particular Massachusetts Senate seat has been represented by Jack Kennedy, Ted Kennedy or a family designee (on a temporary basis). The symbolism of Republicans seizing the "Kennedy seat" is huge.

Scott Brown.jpg
AP photo
Massachusetts State Sen. Scott Brown campaigns at the Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Princeton, Mass., yesterday.

5. This is where the Boston Tea Party took place. New England "patriots" rebelled against high taxes by dumping tea into Boston Harbor some 235 years ago. Now, the new generation of "Tea Party patriots" is hoping to dump candidates (Democrat and Republican) who raise taxes and increase federal spending. Again, a big symbolic thing.

6. This is a test of the power of political independents. Fewer than one in eight Massachusetts voters admits to being a Republican. So GOP nominee Brown couldn't come close to victory without carrying independent voters by a wide margin and chipping away at the Democratic base. That's terrible news for Democrats looking ahead. If independents continue to flee the Democratic Party -- as they did in New Jersey and Virginia last year -- the midterm elections could be an absolute disaster for the ruling party.

7. It's a good indicator of voters' desire for divided government. Even in Massachusetts, many voters want to send a message to Democrats in DC: One-party government is not a good idea. A Brown win -- or even a photo finish -- would tell us that even some Democrats want a limit on the power of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

8. It could give a jump start to GOP recruiting efforts in other states. One of the keys to the Republican takeover of Congress is 1994 was a superb recruiting effort that enlisted big-name challengers to Democratic incumbents. If Brown wins in Massachusetts, the Texans atop the GOP congressional campaign efforts -- John Cornyn in the Senate and Pete Sessions in the House -- probably would have recruits lining up outside their offices to take on Democratic incumbents.

9. It's proof that Republicans don't have to be moderates to win on Democratic turf. Conventional wisdom holds that Republicans need to recruit moderate candidates to win elections in the North and Midwest. But Scott Brown is an unapologetic conservative. If he can win (or come close) in Massachusetts, it sends a message that conservative Republicans can play ball in "blue" America.

10. It would be a personal and political repudiation of President Obama. The president upped the political ante yesterday by flying to Boston for a rally with Democrat Martha Coakley. He told voters just how important her election was to him. By inserting himself into the race, Obama raised the stakes: If Massachusetts voters reject his personal appeal, it's a sign that the president's (remaining) personal popularity is not necessarily transferable to endangered Democrats.

Wow. No wonder the Democrats are flailing, thrashing, and desperately re-hashing.

Rich Lowry sums this up nicely:

If Brown wins, Massachusetts will be a kind of repeat of New Jersey — with Democrats desperately trying to energize their side but losing the middle; hoping to transfer Obama's appeal to a politician people don't particularly like; relying on the mechanics of a turn-out operation; paddling against a strong backlash caused by the unpopularity of their agenda; and working overtime to smear their opponent.

Clive Crook offers them some sound advice at The Atlantic:

Democrats need to recover some sense of shock at what the polls in Massachusetts are saying...They also need to ask what the electorate will make of a response that says, "We don't care what the voters think. We know best."

I support healthcare reform; for all its flaws, I think the Senate bill is a big step forward. But supporters of the bill must take pause at its unpopularity, which the polls in Massachusetts underline. The plain fact is, the Democrats have failed to make their case. They need to ask why, and start trying to fix it.

Finding cunning ways to carry on regardless sends a message of contempt to the electorate, and one thing we know is that the electorate always gets the last word.

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