For those who doubt that Republican Scott Brown can win today’s special Senate election in Massachusetts, the Bay State’s more conservative northern neighbor shows why a win for him is not impossible.
Democrats took once-red New Hampshire after former Republican Gov. Craig Benson and the state Republican Party were tainted with the stink of corruption, President George W. Bush was ruled by general popular consensus to be incompetent, and the state Republican Party had become so comfortable in power that it lost many of its own supporters as well as the rising rolls of centrist, independent voters by falling on tired talking points rather than continuing to develop a message that had broad appeal.
The result was a Democratic rout. John Lynch became governor in 2004 on a theme of honesty and fiscal responsibility, Reps. Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter were elected in 2006 on anti-Bush, pro-fiscal responsibility messages, Democrats took the Legislature that year by tacking to the center and exposing the hollowness of the GOP message, which was mostly to repeat “tax cuts!” ad nauseam. Then in 2008, Jeanne Shaheen won a U.S. Senate seat by campaigning not against Sen. John Sununu, but George W. Bush and Sununu’s big-spending colleagues in Washington.
There are parallels in Massachusetts today. The Bay State’s Democratic Party reeks of corruption and hackery. Three consecutive House speakers, all Democrats, have resigned amid corruption scandals. That’s every House speaker since 1991.
In 2004, legislative Democrats changed the Senate succession law when Republican Mitt Romney was governor to prevent him from naming John Kerry’s replacement should Kerry win the White House. They repealed the law that mandated a gubernatorial appointment and replaced it with one mandating a special election. Then last year they changed it again when Ted Kennedy was ill to prevent a Republican from winning his seat in the very special election they created for the sole purpose of preventing a Republican from taking the seat.
Though Democrats still outnumber Republicans 3-1 in Massachusetts, independents are now a majority (51 percent) of voters, and those sorts of shenanigans have not gone unnoticed. (Similarly, independents grew to outnumber Republicans in New Hampshire in the last decade, helping give recent elections to Democrats.)
For her part, Martha Coakley is the poster child for overconfident politicians who have felt so protected by their party’s dominance that it never occurred to them to actually work on articulating a message that would appeal to middle-of-the-road voters.
Like Republicans in New Hampshire just prior to the Democratic takeover, she is primarily repeating party talking points designed to win over her base. She has not been focused on reaching out to the independent voters who now make up the largest portion of the Massachusetts electorate. Scott Brown, on the other hand, has done exactly that. He has campaigned hard for those centrist votes.
Coakley is so out of touch with her state that she disdained the idea of campaigning in front of Fenway Park and referred to former Red Sox ace Curt Schilling as “a Yankees fan.” That’s worse than John Kerry’s “Manny Ortiz” slip-up from a few years ago (in which he combined the names of the Red Sox’ top sluggers David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez). It reveals her to be entirely insulated from the people. It was similar to the moment when George H.W. Bush couldn’t come up with the price of a gallon of milk.
With the candidate doing so badly, Democrats on Sunday turned to President Obama, who flew in to save Coakley’s sinking candidacy by giving another grand speech. But Obama is a large part of the reason the Democratic Party’s popularity is falling. At least since this past summer, when he campaigned so vigorously for his health care reform plan, he has exhibited the same arrogance, the same tone deaf repeating of canned talking points, that has Coakley in so much trouble. And he did himself no favors in Massachusetts when, also last summer, he intervened in the dispute between the Cambridge Police Department and his friend, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Combine an unpopular president with an arrogant, out-of-touch state party that has been tainted with corruption, and add a large shift in the electorate toward more independent registrations, and the 2010 U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts looks a lot like the last few elections in New Hampshire. This is somewhat oversimplified, of course, but the parallels are real. Although they don’t guarantee a Brown victory, they indicate that the conditions on the ground are ripe for one.