Why Massachusetts Voters Saw Red
By now virtually every American journalist, amateur and professional alike, has commented on the stunning (but not totally unexpected) victory of GOP senatorial candidate Scott Brown in the bluest of blue states. I’ll be no different, but I’ll try to root around for some less obvious reasons behind the Democrats’ debacle in the land of the Kennedys.
First, the obvious reasons for Brown’s victory:
1. Democrat candidate Martha Coakley ran a poor campaign. She was overconfident, even arrogant — balking at the idea of pressing the flesh, making some unfortunate gaffes (like the crazed notion that Red Sox pitching great Curt Schilling was a Yankees fan), and even taking a week’s vacation during an extremely brief one-month campaign. Remember the tortoise and the hare? Coakley had the long ears in this race.
2. Republican candidate Brown ran an expert campaign. He’s bright, dynamic, upbeat, telegenic — all the elements that add up to instant voter appeal. As the “red” contender in a blue state, he had to try harder than his rival — and did. Even more important, he appealed to the voters’ sense of alienation from the Washington establishment. (More about this later.)
3. Voters used the election as a referendum on the president. And Obama has had the misfortune to preside over a very bad year. Of course, the president shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of blame for the recession, the snarled healthcare mess and other snafus not of his own making. But the perception is that he’s not taking charge. Nearly everyone agrees that he’s smart, decent and conscientious, but so was Jimmy Carter.
Now let’s look at some less obvious reasons for the Republican victory:
1. The people of Massachusetts aren’t especially concerned about healthcare reform. Governor Mitt Romney (a Republican, mind you) left them with nearly universal health coverage, so why would they care if their senatorial candidate planned to quash the national bill now struggling for life in Congress? The voters of Massachusetts were more concerned about carefree government spending and high unemployment.
2. Half the voters in Massachusetts characterize themselves as independents. Yes, the state generally skews to the left, but it’s more a matter of personal philosophy than party loyalty. The Democrats forgot that independents can swing either way.
3. Brown appealed to populist rage and alienation. I can’t stress this point enough. It’s not just the crazed right-wing tea party fanatics who are angry and resentful these days. Most of us (including moderates like me) are fed up with government of the moneyed elite, by the moneyed elite, for the moneyed elite. Even Obama, feared by the right as a closet socialist, has apparently bowed before the power of Wall Street honchos and insurance industry lobbyists. We’re looking at an electorate that has reached the limit of its patience with the status quo.
4. The Democrats now represent the status quo, believe it or not. They’ve been ruling the roost for a year and we’re still unhappy. Voters saw Brown as a rebel and a small-D democrat who would work on their behalf. (Yes, Virginia, even Republicans can be democrats.) The result: Mr. Brown Goes to Washington.